Sir James Black OM (1925-2010)
Sir James Black OM FRS, the distinguished pharmacologist, who died on 22 March, aged 85, was born and educated in Scotland and he remained distinctively Scottish, with a delicious chuckle.
He qualified in medicine at Dundee, of which university he was later Chancellor. His career alternated between universities and the pharmaceutical industry. In 1962 he discovered the first beta-blocking drug (propranolol) for treating angina, blood pressure and cardiac disease. Later, he developed cimetidine (marketed as Tagamet) to prevent peptic ulcers. They became the world’s best-selling drugs and the pharmaceutical companies, but not Sir James, made billions from them. He was described as “relieving in the laboratory more human suffering than thousands of doctors in a lifetime at the bedside….a genius…..tough, genial and a marvellous leader”.
After retiring from King’s College Medical School, he worked in new laboratories in Half Moon Lane that were named after him. Many honours came to him: FRS, a knighthood, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and finally, appointment to the exclusive 21 member Order of Merit, which is in the personal gift of The Queen. He was immensely proud of that honour and once told me he could not imagine how anyone could refuse it – as only four men have done since the Order was founded in 1902.
Stanley Martin is the author of The Order of Merit – One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour