Intended for healthcare professionals


Stewart Adams: pharmacologist who discovered ibuprofen

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 28 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l898
  1. Marika Davies
  1. London, UK
  1. marikadavies{at}

Stewart Adams believed that those involved in the discovery of new drugs should be the first to take them—later restrictions on this practice, in his opinion, took the excitement out of research. Searching for a painkiller to treat rheumatoid arthritis in the early 1960s, he was the first to step forward to try compound 1472. He did not have high hopes for the new drug—there had been plenty of disappointments over the years—but it would become one of the world’s most popular medicines, better known as ibuprofen.

Adams’s interest in finding a painkiller for use in rheumatoid arthritis was sparked in 1952, at a lecture by the Nobel prize winner Philip Hench on the discovery of cortisone. Adams was struck by the “miraculous effects” of the steroid, which could drastically improve the quality of life of patients bedbound by rheumatoid arthritis. But cortisone (and aspirin, the other treatment of choice in rheumatoid arthritis at the time) had serious side effects. Adams saw the need for a “non-cortisone-like compound” to treat the inflammatory …

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