Together with his colleague, pharmacologist Stewart Adams, chemist John Nicholson will join the 2020 class of National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees for inventing ibuprofen, a drug used by millions of people around the world for reducing pain and inflammation.
A Useful Scientist
During his younger years, Nicholson attended Manchester Grammar School and went on to study chemistry at the University of Oxford’s Brasenose College. While in college, it was noted that “he should develop into a useful scientist, fully aware of his social responsibilities.” He went on to fulfill this prediction by earning a doctorate from Oxford before pursuing a career in chemistry.
Nicholson began a long and successful career working for Boots Pure Drug Co. in Nottingham. As a research chemist, he worked on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of arthritis.
As a team at Boots, Nicholson and Adams were tasked with finding a safer and more effective way to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Though aspirin was the preferred drug to treat this condition during the 1950s, its effectiveness required a high dosage, which increased the risk of side effects including allergic reactions and gastrointestinal problems. Nicholson and Adams tested over 600 different propionic compounds. Among these was 2-(4-isobutylphenyl) propionic acid, which they would later name ibuprofen.
In contrast to aspirin, patients taking ibuprofen experienced no serious side effects. Even when taken in lower doses, the new drug performed as well as aspirin.
Helping People Everywhere
In 1969, ibuprofen was first made available by prescription in the United Kingdom as Brufen, and the United States followed a few years later, introducing the drug as Motrin. In the 1980s, following studies that investigated the use of ibuprofen for nonarthritic conditions and with its proven safety record, the drug was approved as an over-the-counter medication and was sold as Nurofen in the U.K. and as Advil in the U.S.
To this day, the uses for ibuprofen continue to evolve. In 2009, the FDA approved Caldolor, the world’s first injectable dosage form of ibuprofen, used to treat pain and fever in a hospital setting. Additionally, the drug is now the preferred method for treating ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart defect that can weaken heart muscle and, if left uncorrected, could cause congestive heart failure.
Nicholson earned a total of six U.S. patents in his lifetime. He passed away in 1983. Along with his colleague Stewart Adams, Nicholson will be honored at the Annual NIHF Induction Ceremony. To learn more about our 2020 Inductees, we encourage you to visit our blog.