The news that Dr Stewart Adams OBE had passed away at the age of 95 at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham on 30th January 2019, was featured by all the national media outlets. Unusual for a chemist whose career was spent working in industry. His story however, of the man who created one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs and tested it on himself as a hangover cure, is compelling and his contribution to the world, remarkable.
Dr Adams began his working life with an apprenticeship in a retail pharmacy run by Boots before undertaking a degree in pharmacy in Leeds University. He then returned to Boots, taking up a role in the research department at Boots Pure Drug Company in 1952, where he was tasked with creating a side-effect free treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr Stewart Adams quote r.e. success, The Telegraph 2007
Ten years and 600 compounds later, Dr Adams and his team filed a patent for the compound 2-(4-isobutylphenyl) propionic acid – later called ibuprofen. After successfully completing clinical trials, ibuprofen launched in the UK in 1969 on prescription only, becoming available over-the-counter in 1983.
Reportedly, ibuprofen is now produced around the world at a rate of 20,000 tonnes/year with a dose taken every 3 seconds. Found in handbags, desk drawers and bathroom cabinets across the globe, very few can say they haven’t taken ibuprofen in one form or another.
Outside of the industry, few people knew his name or how this or any drug, is created. Following the news of his death, a wealth of gratitude was shown by people helped by Dr Adams’s work. Thanking him for creating a drug that helps them manage arthritic pain, menstrual cramps and hangovers. To them, he is a ‘life saver’.
Towards the end of 2018, Dr Glenn Crocker (BioCity Chairman) received an email asking for help. A young woman in the U.S using ibuprofen to manage multiple chronic conditions, had researched the drug which was allowing her to lead a ‘normal life’. So impactful was this over-the-counter painkiller that she wanted to write to the creator personally, to thank him.
We were lucky enough to spend time with Dr Adams as the labs in which he worked are now home to BioCity-based businesses .
Joining us as a distinguished guest at many events, Dr Adams was, without fail, the person that everyone wanted to talk to. Students, researchers, chemists and academics, he generously gave his time to all, because he was to them, an inspiration.
While the field of drug discovery and development is very different today, (it’s unimaginable that anyone would take a dose of an unapproved drug), the drive and the motivation is the same for the companies who now call BioCity home, as for Dr Adams and his team in the 1960s.
The desire to affect positive change and reduce suffering can be seen in every scientist who is testing their 367th compound or working on the fifth iteration of their product.
The drug that became ibuprofen took over three decades to develop, but its impact is immeasurable, and so from Dr Stewart Adams we and all those he helped, learn tenacity. To keep on trying and to do so with humility and kindness.
TAGS: BioCity, Blog, Nottingham