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Akira Endo

Discoverer of Statins, the cholesterol lowering drug that has provided life extension for the Baby Boomers

Endo was a child in Japan during World War II

“We lost the war. Even adults did not know what to do. We did not have food and clothes. Everything was called off. Even kids lost their dream. It was so hard that even kids did not have hope.”
 -Akira Endo

“When I was in the upper grades of elementary school, we took part in labor service projects called kinrou houshi to help the local farmers. At the labor service all the classmates helped the farmers and picked edible wild plants from the fields and mountains near the farms.”
 -Akira Endo

“At that time I had several reasons why I wanted to become a doctor or scientist. First of all, I learned about Hideyo Noguchi. He got burned just like I got burned at the age of five, by the fire place. Secondly, I suffered from pneumonia when I was a 4th grader.” “I want to become a doctor to help people who are suffering from diseases.”
 -Akira Endo

“Sometimes I was too hungry to concentrate, and I could not hear a lecture. Also, sometimes I felt dizzy and crouched down in a hallway to keep from fainting.”
 -Akira Endo

The school had a system the students called zwei, for second meal. Some students did not eat all of their allotted food, so around 8PM a drum would signal that leftovers were available. The drum set off a race to the cafeteria for the remaining food, which was given out on a first come-first served basis. Endo studied from 7PM to12PM every night, but he always had his chopsticks ready. “I was good at running,” Endo recalls. “I ran like women running for a bargain. After all, I was not full even right after supper.”
 -Akira Endo

Tadao Hatakeyama, Endo’s childhood best friend, recalls that one day Endo arrived late to school. When he asked him why he was late, Endo told him:
“I negotiate with my father personally about going to a high school. And I rampaged until he said yes.” Hatakeyama asked, “What did you do as rampage?” Endo replied with strong, clear eyes, “I wore boots and walked and rampaged on a rolling board (for Japanese rice cake).” Relatives remembered the young Endo as headstrong and weren’t surprised he won out.

Endo Quotes about his Statin Research

“At that time, doing research on nucleic acids and proteins was very popular among other researchers, so I avoided researching those topics. I chose the biochemistry of lipids (cholesterol and fatty acid) as my research theme. The reason why I chose this theme was that not so many researchers were researching it. This meant I did not have much competition.”
“I never had the chance to study at Dr. Bloch’s laboratory,” Endo says, “but he encouraged me and guided me for more than thirty years. He did this from the time I was at Albert Einstein College of Medicine until a few years before he passed away (in the mid 1990s). Although he was a great scientist, he was modest. He was good-natured and had a good heart. I was drawn to him and respected him. If I had never known him, I would have never studied about cholesterol this much.”
“From the example of the antibiotics, I predicted that there were microbes that make cholesterol synthesis inhibitor in them. There was a theory that microbes make antibiotics to kill other microbes which were foreign enemies or inhibit their growth to live. I took to this theory, and I thought it was possible that a microbe, which killed microbes of foreign enemies or inhibited their growth by cholesterol synthesis inhibitor, existed.”
“I chose mold and mushrooms as microbes which had strong possibility to produce cholesterol synthesis inhibitor and I did not choose actinomycetes, although it was against the trend of those days.”

“With that said, there was no guarantee that I would be able to discover an HMGCR inhibitor, so I decided to study a few thousand strains of fungi over a two-year period. It was going to be a research like a bet and if I was unable to discover the substance I set out to find, I would then terminate my research.”

“The next moment I was struck with deep sorrow that our research of the past three years may have amounted to nothing.”
“Kitano told me,” Endo says, “that he was going to clean up (kill) the laying hens after the examination which would end in the middle of February. Then, I asked him, after I told him about the plight of compactin, ‘Could you administer compactin to the laying hens before you clean them up?’ Kitano, who enjoyed drinking and had a pleasant nature, promised his cooperation on the spot.” There was only one condition, Kitano told him, laughing.  Endo had to take the chickens off his hands. “Because I took care of about 20 cocks when I was a junior high school student,” Endo says, “I was familiar with not only taking care of chickens but also the characteristic smell of a henhouse and loud screaming noise of chickens.”
My prediction hit the nail on the head superbly and within a period of two to four weeks the blood cholesterol of the hen fell by close to 50 percent. During this period, a reduction of more than 10 percent was observed in the yolk cholesterol. The laying hens stayed healthy during the administration of the compactin and after the administration was halted, no pathological abnormality was observed. My team and I shouted with joy and toasted our success when we discovered the dramatic effect of compactin!”

“Merck signed the nondisclosure agreement, and they not only got secret information/documents and crystal of compactin over and over again, but also received our guidance for more than two years. Furthermore, they discovered mevinolin (lovastatin) without permission and have monopolized the right. It is like ‘We believed the proposal and dated for more than two years, but we were betrayed.’ It will never happen in our country; however we cannot complain because it was not a breach of contract. Still, it should not have happened if we had been used to how to associate with overseas’ companies.”
 -Akira Endo, about sharing information with Merck, Sharp and Dohme Research

“I had wished that I would not receive the cold shoulder from my company because of the significant contribution I had made in the development of statin. However, I was treated exactly in the same way as my fellow workers who had resigned before me. My company’s prohibiting my fellow workers from helping me clear my belongings from the office was just one example of this ostracism.”
 -Akira Endo, Discover of the cholesterol lowering drugs, statins

Endo’s Humor

“Today I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my cholesterol levels have reached 240 mg/dl. Maybe I had Sukiyaki or Shabushabu too often! …The funny thing is that the doctor said, ‘Don’t worry! I know some very good drugs to lower your cholesterol.’
 -Akira Endo, whose doctor did not know he was treating the discoverer of statins

Endo's Statins Prove to be a Revolutionary Heart Drug

 “The millions of people whose lives will be extended through statin therapy owe it all to Akira Endo and his search through fungal extracts at the Sankyo Co.”
- Nobel Prize winners Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein

“Statins are to cardiovascular disease what penicillin was to infectious disease. They are one of the most important, if not the most important, advances in cardiovascular medicine.”
- Professor Leon Simons, head of the cholesterol clinic at Sydney, Australia’s St Vincent’s Hospital

Inspirational Quotes

“The discovery of the medicine was a continuation of difficulty which was like a seesaw.  However, when I pass the difficulty, there is the pleasant feeling like after I exercise and sweat…. The discovery and development of statin were a huge gamble for me in achieving my dream. Thanks to my success with statins, the dream from my boyhood was realized and I received appreciation from a large number of people from all over the world. This is a source of immeasurable joy for me. During the development and research of statins, I had the opportunity to meet many outstanding scientists.  Of these, I learned a great deal from three great scientists in particular: Konrad Bloch, Joseph Goldstein, and Michael Brown.”
- Akira Endo

“I did not start the research to make money or become a big man. Since I was born as a human in this world, I wanted to leave my mark before I die. I want to die after I do at least one thing useful for the world. I could start the research because I had such a thought….Therefore, we cannot measure the contribution, which statin did for the precious lives. Maybe we should not simply convert ‘to be useful for the world’ into money. It is something we cannot convert.”
- Akira Endo

“Nowadays, it is said that money is important. However, we can find the pleasure of life and the value, when we do something for the world with a sense of mission. What I have done was rather for the world than a Japanese company or Japan. It was needed all over the world, so I challenged for it. Especially now, it is called the time of globalization, and borders are not clear. Humans made borders originally, so they exist, but they seem not to exist. I want to tell young people the message that the philosophy and sense of value of doing something for the world are more important than making money. That is the work left for me from now on.”   
- Akira Endo