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Hitchings, George Herbert

acid drugs uric cell

(1905–98) US pharmacologist: deviser of new drugs.

After graduating in chemistry at Washington and Harvard, Hitchings worked in universities for 9 years before he joined the Wellcome company in 1942 and spent his main career there. He was notably successful in devising new drugs; in 1942 he began a programme of pharmacological study of the long-known group of purine compounds, which had first been made from uric acid and whose chemistry had been intensively examined . Hitchings argued that the place of the purines in cell metabolism could lead to their use in the control of disease, and his approach was well rewarded. In 1951 he and made and tested 6-mercaptopurine (6MP) and found it to inhibit DNA synthesis and therefore cell division; it proved useful in the treatment of some types of cancer, especially leukaemia. Further work on it showed in 1959 that it inhibited production of antibodies in the rabbit; and a related compound was used from 1960 to control rejection in kidney transplantation, where the normal body processes would treat the transplant as a foreign protein and form antibodies against it. The work on 6MP also led Hitchings and Elion to the discovery of allopurinol, which blocks uric acid production in the body and which therefore forms an effective treatment for gout (which is due to uric acid deposition in the joints). Other drugs introduced by the group include the antimalarial pyrimethamine and the antibacterial trimetho-prim, acyclovir, the first drug to be effective against viruses, and zidovudine, used against AIDS.

Hitchings shared a Nobel Prize in 1988 with Gertrude Elion, his principal associate from the 1940s onwards .

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