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Patrick P A Humphrey

Patrick P A Humphrey



OBE, DSc, PhD, B.Pharm.Hons, Fellow UCL School of Pharmacy

Patrick Humphrey studied at the University of London for his undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees. He gained his doctoral thesis at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School working on the actions of decamethonium at the neuromuscular junction. After his PhD, and a short period as a lecturer in the Physiology Department, Patrick decided to join Allen & Hanbury’s, a subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline, where he was invited to start a migraine research project.

Work on isolated blood vessels and in particular cranial vessels led to the discovery in his laboratory of a previously unknown receptor for 5-hydroxytriptamine (to be named 5HT1), at a time when only two other 5HT receptors were known (now named 5HT2 and 5HT3). The 5-HT1 was identified predominantly in certain cranial vessels including those in the human dura mater. This led to in depth pharmacological work to identify a molecular structure that would be selective in activating the 5-HT1 receptor, while avoiding the much broader pharmacological spectrum of serotonin and ergotamine.

This led to the development of small molecule derivatives of serotonin and  in 1984 sumatriptan underwent extensive clinical trials which showed its remarkable efficacy and it was subsequently marketed in 1991. To this day sumatriptan is widely used in the effective treatment of migraine and is the Father of the Triptans (group of 5-HT1B/1D agonists) having been identified years ahead of its followers.

Patrick’s career involved leadership of the Pharmacology Division of the Glaxo Group for many years and later was Professor of Applied Pharmacology and Director of the Glaxo Institute of Applied Pharmacology in Cambridge. He finished his full time career as Executive Vice President of Research at Theravance in San Francisco where further drug entities were discovered.

His  noticeable awards include the position of Honorary Professor by the University of Cambridge as well as the University of Glasgow. Other tributes included the prestigous Cameron Prize for Therapeutics at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Society's Mullard Award for the development of sumatriptan and ondansetron with colleagues Alec Oxford and Michael Tyres . In 1999, he was awarded the  OBE for "services to migraine research" by the Queen of England.