Akira Endo

President, Biopharm Research Laboratories; Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Tokyo, Japan
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For the first discovery and development of statins, inhibitors of cholesterol biosynthesis that have transformed the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

The Work:

Dr. Endo discovered the first statin drug, compactin, and demonstrated its clinical efficacy. Statins are a class of drugs with remarkable cholesterol-lowering properties that have revolutionized the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease (CHD). They lower the part of cholesterol known as “bad cholesterol”, technically known as low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol. Dr. Endo sifted through thousands of organisms, hunting for natural substances(products) that block a key enzyme in the biochemical pathway that produces cholesterol, a major contributor to CHD. The organism he found does exactly that and his work stimulated Merck to launch a drug-development program that led, 20+ years ago, to the first statin approved for medical use. This advance paved a path for other pharmaceutical companies to follow.

The Impact:

Statins are now routinely used to prevent and treat CHD throughout the world. Although CHD is aggravated by multiple risk factors, reducing LDL levels alone makes a significant impact. By discovering statins, Dr. Endo ushered in a new era in preventing and treating CHD and it is estimated that millions of people have extended their lives through statin therapy.