David Horrobin was one of the most original scientific minds of his generation. His study of human physiology and the basis of disease lead him to investigate the role of fatty acids and their derivatives in human disease. David applied his knowledge and understanding of lipids to investigate their possible role as therapeutics in many fields of medicine.
Born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, he was a scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained a First Class Honours medical degree. To this, he added a clinical medical degree and a doctorate in neuroscience. He was a fellow of Magdalen College, where he taught medicine to students alongside Dr. Hugh Sinclair, one of the pioneers in the field of essential fatty acids. Hugh Sinclair was someone who heavily influenced the future of Davids research.
While a medical student, he worked for the Flying Doctor Service in East Africa. This led to an interest in Kenya and an appointment in 1969 as Professor of Medical Physiology at its new medical school. David traveled widely in Eastern Africa culminating in his publication of an illustrated guide entitled A Guide to Kenya and Northern Tanzania, in 1971. This became a classic volume that has played a large part in developing the tourist industry of the area. Throughout these travels, he developed the kernel of thoughts about fatty acids, schizophrenia and its role in evolution which he elaborated on later in the publication of his book in 2001 entitled The Madness of Adam and Eve. This was short-listed in 2002 for the Aventis Science Book of the Year.
In 1972 David returned to the UK to the position of Reader in Medical Physiology at the University of Newcastle Medical School where an interest in essential fatty acids, prostaglandins and the endocrine system developed. In 1975 he took up the position of Professor of Medicine at the University of Montreal, which he held for four years. He became increasingly interested in the development of novel therapeutic agents based on lipid biochemistry, and in the application of this field to human diseases.
In 1979 David left the university to set up a small pharmaceutical company, Efamol, which changed its name to Scotia Pharmaceuticals Ltd. several years later. Scotia Pharmaceuticals Ltd. became one of the first biotech companies to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. Over the course of 18 years, his innovative approach to research led to the discovery and eventual commercialization of products within two technologies, namely lipids and photodynamic therapy, in the fields of cancer, dermatology and diabetes. Scotia Pharmaceuticals Ltd. was built up to a company with 450 employees and a market capitalization of over £400 million (US$645 million) at the time of Dr. Horrobins departure at the end of 1997.
Dr. Horrobin and Scotia were pioneers in researching the health and medical applications of essential fatty acids (EFAs), particularly gamma linolenic acid (GLA), from various sources, particularly evening primrose oil (EPO) from the seeds of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). The wide popularity today of dietary supplements and medicines made from EFAs from EPO, black currant seed oil (Ribes nigrum) and borage seed oil (Borago officinalis) owes its origin to Dr. Horrobins vision, genius, and determination.
In order to concentrate on research in psychiatry David, along with his wife Sherri, set up a new company, Laxdale Ltd., at the end of 1997. Based in Stirling, Scotland, Laxdale is developing novel pharmaceuticals for psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Laxdale is working on products for diseases such as Huntingtons disease, depression, and schizophrenia. David instilled in his team a passion for the science, an open-minded approach to research, and a positive and enthusiastic attitude to clinical research and development. Laxdales work will continue and aims to provide a lasting tribute to his memory.
David was the founder and editor of Medical Hypotheses, a forum for the dissemination of new ideas in medicine. He was also the founder and editor of the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. He was a prolific writer himself who wrote and edited numerous books on a wide range of subjects, as well as contributing to more than 800 scientific publications. One of his main interests was in schizophrenia and he was medical adviser and then president for the Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain. Much of his research was devoted to finding a treatment for this condition.
David inspired a multitude of people whose lives he touched. He had a unique combination of enthusiasm and tenacity, humility and friendliness, open minded creativity, huge breadth and depth of knowledge and outstanding analytical power. He was a mentor and regarded as an inspiration to many people. David was an outstanding communicator and his peers have said that his ability to express his ideas with such clarity and conviction led them to change the way they thought. There is no greater lasting legacy to him than that. He treated everyone with kindness and respect and his optimistic outlook on life never left him.
Some two years ago he fell ill with mantle cell lymphoma, and recently wrote movingly an account of his illness in an article in the Lancet, arguing passionately that cancer drug development as presently practiced with large scale clinical trials is not ethical.
David Horrobin could trace his family origins to a small Yorkshire village called Horrobin, which was wiped out except for a few families in the plague of 1348. He is survived by his wife Sherri, his mother Betty, his brother Peter, his children Cathra and Steven, and his grandchildren Jake, Oscar, and Luke.
Davids final resting place is on the Island of Harris where, for many years, he spent time fishing, thinking, walking and reading. He will be greatly missed.
Mehar Manku, Iain Glen, Susan McGoldrick, Fiona Duffy, David Boal, Harald Murck, Amanda Green: Davids colleagues and co-workers