But I just can’t imagine how such a drug [as sumatriptan] would be discovered today. First of all if someone said: ‘Well, there are 14 different 5‑HT receptor types and we know that 5‑HT aborts a migraine attack, you go and find the right one.’ You know with just the molecular biology and paucity of whole tissue and in vivo pharmacology, it just wouldn’t work. Then if you have the Clipboard Charlies going around telling you how to run your project and how you should be doing it, that would kill it as well. So I think I was very, very fortunate in being at the right time in the right place with the right organization. Professor Patrick Humphrey, Drugs Affecting 5-HT Systems
Professor Patrick Humphrey OBE DSc PhD HonFBPhS (b. 1946) was born in South Africa and graduated from the School of Pharmacy, University of London, in 1968, with a strong interest in drug receptor theory. After obtaining a PhD in Pharmacology at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School and briefly working as a Lecturer in the Department of Physiology there, he joined Allen & Hanburys at Ware to initiate a project on migraine. His work on cerebrovascular pharmacology led directly to the development of sumatriptan, the prototype of a new drug class (the triptans) for the treatment of migraine. During this time, he became the overall Director of the Glaxo Division of Pharmacology that was not only instrumental in the discovery of sumatriptan, but also naratriptan, alosetron, ondansetron, vapiprost, and salmeterol, covering a broad spectrum of therapeutic areas. He has received many important academic honours, including an honorary Professorship from the University of Cambridge, as well as the Royal Society’s Mullard medal. In 1999, he was awarded the OBE for ‘services to migraine research’. He maintains a passion for research aimed at drug discovery and was latterly the successful Head of Research and Executive Vice President at Theravance in South San Francisco from 2001 to 2008. He has over 300 published scientific papers and book chapters to his name and was ranked fourth in the list of total literature citations in Pharmacology and Toxicology from 1994 to 2004. He is currently consulting for a number of new, innovative pharmaceutical companies and is a non-executive Director on the Board of Verona Pharma plc.
Professor Humphrey also contributed to our Witness Seminar on 'Migraine: Diagnosis, Treatment and Understanding c.1960–2010'. He discusses his career in the pharmaceutical industry in a video interview that forms part of our 'Drugs and pharmacologists' series. The interview with Professor Humphrey can be found here.