The Japanese scientist who grew fascinated by fungi as a boy is one among five of this years’ recipients of a Lasker Award. Endo was specifically given the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.
Dr Akira Endo first isolated the hypocholesterolemic compound, mevastatin or compactin, from Penicillium citrinum. Compactin was the forerunner to the 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (HMG CoA reducatase) inhibitors. This fungal natural product gave rise to the cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs. While not without risk of adverse events, this drug class is widely considered life-saving (although some work suggests that while heart attack frequency is reduced, overall mortality may not be.).
Dr Endo’s story has long influenced my career and even showed up as I started this blog.
Congratulations, Dr Endo! I am not being melodramatic when I say that your commitment to the wonders of medicines from the earth has been a true benefit to mankind.
Update: The Lasker Foundation site has posted a link to a lovely and colorful essay by Dr Endo in the October 2008 issue of Nature Medicine, “A gift from nature: the birth of the statins” (PDF here) – get it while it’s still free-access.