The death of Sir James Black, Nobel Prize winner and one of the giants of the modern pharmaceutical industry, has been announced this week.
He began work at the blog’s former company, ICI after the War. The idea was to build on the success seen with drugs such as penicillin. It was, as we know today, a good decision. But it took 20 years before the pharma business made money. Even in 1978, when the blog joined ICI Petchems, numerous executives would complain that “ICI Pharma was spending all our profits”, whilst we were not able to build more crackers.
Black’s great discovery was beta blockers – the first effective therapy for high blood pressure, and still widely used today. He then moved to what is now GSK, where he invented Tagamet to treat stomach ulcers. In turn, this led to the development of Zantac, the best-selling drug in history.
Black’s death is a reminder, if one was needed, that finance is not the be-all and end-all of the chemical industry. The real driver is the quality and the effectiveness of the products that we make, that help to create a better life for people around the world.