In 1939, when millions of adults were preparing to kill each other in World War II, Stewart Adams was a disoriented teenager. At 16, he had decided to throw in the towel and drop out of school. He was a child of the working class. His father, a train engineer, had vision problems and had been demoted to a less qualified job in the town of March, a railway center in eastern England. There was nothing to presage that this stunned young man was going to alleviate the suffering of billions of people.
Stewart Adams got his first job thanks to the plug of a friend of the family. Still Barbilampiño began working as an apprentice at Boots, a local pharmacy chain. A teenager with no apparent vocation for the study did not seem the best signing for the company, but Adams ended up studying Pharmacy in his spare time, he got his PhD almost 30 years and in 1953 he was given the mission of finding an oral anti-inflammatory more effective and safe than the aspirin. In 1969, three decades after entering as an apprentice, he took ibuprofen to the pharmacies. That boy was one of the best signings in history. Currently, Boots stores sell one box of ibuprofen every 2.92 seconds.
Adams entered as an apprentice in a pharmacy as a teenager and ended up studying Pharmacy in his spare time
Adams died on January 30 at age 95, as reported by his company during half of his life. It was, they emphasize, "an anonymous hero". Today, ibuprofen is used for the treatment of almost any mild or moderate pain, from a migraine to a caries, going through a painful menstruation or a postoperative process. Before Adams, this joker did not exist. It is difficult to find people who have so alleviated the suffering of humanity.
The search for a superaspirin was epic, says Australian pharmacologist Kim Rainsford in his book Ibuprofen (editorial Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). In 1941, the Luftwaffe pilots launched hundreds of bombs on Nottingham, destroying part of Boots' research facilities. When Adams began his project in 1953, his laboratory was installed in the living room of an old Victorian house on the outskirts of the city. He had only one assistant, Colin Burrows, who would later be joined by chemist John Nicholson. There the three began to try new compounds.
The scientists administered the products by mouth to shaved guinea pigs, who were then exposed to a jet of ultraviolet light that generated small burns. If the inflammation of the skin was mild or negligible, the anti-inflammatory substance worked. The process was very slow. On December 19, 1961, a compound called RB 1472, originally conceived as a herbicide, showed activity against the erythema of guinea pigs. I would end up baptizing ibuprofen, but at that time I was just one more candidate.
Adams' team started by testing analogues of aspirin derived from salicylic acid. They discarded 200 compounds. They then settled on two substances synthesized in the Boots herbicide development program, which had anti-inflammatory activity. They made 600 variants. The most promising, BTS8402, was about 10 times more potent than aspirin in the lab and was tested in a clinical trial with people with rheumatoid arthritis, the same disease that had affected Jesse Boot, son of the company's founder, all his life. . The experiment was a failure, but the analysis of the results suggested that it was not enough to look for an anti-inflammatory substance, it also had to fight fever and pain.
But how do you know if an animal suffers pain? The Adams team adopted an ingenious technique, developed in 1957 by the researchers L. O. Randall and J. J. Selitto. They immobilized a rat, but allowed him to move his right hind leg freely. With a blunt pointer, the scientists exerted an increasing pressure on the limb, until the animal experienced pain and withdrew it. The accepted threshold of suffering changed depending on the drug previously ingested.
The Adams group – after testing some 600 more molecules in dogs and rats – started clinical trials in humans with three other compounds: BTS10335, BTS10499 and ibufenac. The first two caused rashes in the patients, but the ibufenac seemed safe. It was put on sale in 1966 in the United Kingdom. A few years later he was removed from the market when liver damage occurred in some people who took it frequently. There were four failures in a row.
The glances then turned to that molecule with anti-inflammatory activity detected on December 19, 1961. "I was the first person to take ibuprofen," Adams explained. an interview for the magazine Trends in Pharmacological Sciences in 2012. "I always thought it was important that I take the first dose before asking others to do it. I had tried another couple of drugs before, but never before doing a 30-day toxicity test on rats! "He joked.
To the fifth was the vanquished
The team led by Adams studied 1,500 compounds in animals and brought five of them to human experiments. To the fifth was the vanquished. Clinical trials showed that ibuprofen was effective in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, without major side effects. In 1969, the British authorities approved the drug. In 1971, after a party with colleagues, Adams found that ibuprofen alleviated his hangover, he said, laughing. to the British newspaper The Telegraph. And, in 1983, with the growing number of therapeutic indications, the regulatory body allowed the sale of the drug without a prescription. It had been 30 years since Adams assumed his mission.
"Who could have foreseen more than 35 years ago that when looking for a medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, there would be a link between sunburn in guinea pigs, headache, toothache and menstrual pain?" asked Adams himself in 1992, in the publication The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. It is often said that the search for drugs is a minefield and you have to be lucky not to succumb by the way. But Adams preferred to remember a phrase of the French chemist Louis Pasteur: "Luck only favors the prepared mind". Today, the annual sales of ibuprofen in the world reach 3,000 million dollars, according to the calculations of Rainsford. In 1987, the man who had dropped out of school at the age of 16 was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire.