Endo Applied His Practical Knowledge of Molds to Search for First Statin

(p. 24) Akira Endo, a Japanese biochemist whose research on fungi helped to lay the groundwork for widely prescribed drugs that lower a type of cholesterol that contributes to heart disease, died on June 5 [2024]. He was 90.

. . .

Dr. Endo said his career was also inspired by a biography he read of Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin in the 1920s.

“For me Fleming was a hero,” he told Igaku-Shoin, a Japanese medical publisher, in 2014. “I dreamed of becoming a doctor as a child, but realized a new horizon as people who are not doctors can save people’s lives and contribute to society.”

After studying agriculture at Tohoku University, he joined Sankyo, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, in the late 1950s. His first assignment was manufacturing enzymes for fruit juices and wines at a factory in Tokyo.

He developed a more efficient way of cultivating mold by applying a method he had used as a child to make miso and pickled vegetables, he later told M3, a website for Japanese medical professionals.

. . .

. . ., he grew more than 6,000 fungi in the early 1970s as part of an effort to find a natural substance that could block a crucial enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol.

“I knew nothing but mold, so I decided to look for it in mold,” he said.

He eventually found what he was looking for: a strain of penicillium, or blue mold, that, in chickens, reduced levels of an enzyme that cells need to make LDL cholesterol.

For the full obituary see:

Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives. “Akira Endo, Scholar of Statins, Is Dead at 90.” The New York Times (Sunday, June 16, 2024): 24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated June 15, 2024, and has the title “Akira Endo, Scholar of Statins That Reduce Heart Disease, Dies at 90.”)

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