Japan biochemist who discovered statins, Akira Endo, dies

TOKYO: Japanese biochemist Akira Endo, who discovered cholesterol-lowering statins, has died aged 90, his former student and colleague said on Tuesday (Jun 11).

Statins, which can prevent heart attacks or strokes, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide.

Keiji Hasumi, a professor who was a long-time associate of Endo, said the scientist had died on Jun 5.

“His work was truly great. Statins didn’t exist before Endo,” Hasumi told AFP. “It has the same value and impact as the discovery of penicillin.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine says more than 200 million people take statins. Studies say the global market for them was worth US$15 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow.

Endo experimented on thousands of microbes to reach his 1973 discovery of mevastatin – an agent derived from penicillin that reduces so-called “bad” cholesterol in the blood.

The researcher “was a tough, strict person. He was insightful and perceptive”, and “able to see the hidden essence of things”, Hasumi said.

Endo was born in 1933 to a farming family in rural northern Japan.

His ambitions began early thanks to his grandfather, who was interested in medicine and became a “great home teacher”, Endo said in a 2008 autobiographical essay.

As a student, Endo became interested in antibiotics like penicillin, “deeply impressed” by how many lives they had saved, his essay in the journal Nature Medicine said.

Endo carried out research in New York in the late 1960s, when coronary heart disease was the main cause of US deaths.

“I often saw ambulances coming to take elderly people who had suffered a heart attack to hospital”, which “made me realise the importance of developing a cholesterol-lowering drug”, he said.

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