John W. Lewis is the 1998 recipient of the Nathan B. Eddy Award of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. John is English; born in Gloucester in 1932 and it’s clear that life in the Cotswolds agreed with him. After what the English called public schooling, John went east to Oxford to study chemistry. His course of study also included punting and while he was at college, he married his childhood sweetheart, Joy. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Merton College, working with N. Polgar, an expert on the tuberculosis bacillus.
After a brief stint with a chemical manufacturer, John took a position as Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at Loughborough University, and was soon promoted to Senior Lecturer. He was recruited to Reckitt-Colman by Ken Bentley in 1965. The company was known primarily in the United States for its dry mustard, but it was expanding, and Dr. Bentley had been given authority to establish an opioid synthesis program. He was therefore recruiting chemists and their complementary pharmacologists. John succeeded Bentley as Head of Medicinal Chemistry in 1968 and he became Research Director in 1976.
It was John’s decision, with the support of the pharmacologist, Alan Cowan, to pursue the pharmacology of buprenorphine in order to develop it as an analgesic. This became John’s major, long-term project; he played a dominant role in the development and marketing of buprenorphine as a strong analgesic throughout the world. Buprenorphine came to the English market in 1978 and to the United States in 1981. During this time, John became versed in both receptor theory and clinical pharmacology; the novel actions of buprenorphine demanded attention! It was clear from some of the early experimental human pharmacology studies of buprenorphine by Don Jasinski and colleagues that buprenorphine’s large margin of safety, its long duration of action, and its limited ability to produce physical dependence gave it potential as a pharmacotherapy for narcotic addiction. Once Reckitt-Colman agreed to this use, John threw himself wholeheartedly into the process, giving helpful advise and sage commentary to all involved.
As his retirement from Reckitt-Colman approached, he suggested that they form a research unit at an academic institution, making him instrumental in the establishment of the Psychopharmacolgy Unit at the University of Bristol, headed by David Nutt. Shortly thereafter, John set up a medicinal chemistry laboratory in the Chemistry Department at the University of Bristol, where he continues to pursue interesting objectives, among them the ambitious task of improving upon the pharmacological characteristics of buprenorphine that make it especially useful in treating opioid abuse. This return to academe required that he and Joy change their residence from Hull to Sandford, close to Bristol in Mendip Hills. Most recently they have acquired an additional residence in Looe where John no doubt conjures up still more ideas for his scientific future.
Nathan B. Eddy would have been justly proud of this awardee.