Death of Stewart Adams, Ibuprofen Inventor, at 95

Nicky Broyd

February 21, 2019

Tributes are being paid to Stewart Adams, the Nottingham-based chemist and pharmaceutical scientist who jointly led the team that discovered ibuprofen in the 1960s. He died at the age of 95 on 30th January.


Stewart Adams

Ibuprofen was invented in the 1960s in Nottingham and is still listed as one of the World Health Organisation's essential medicines.

Dr Adams worked at Boots' Laboratories in Nottingham when he, along with John Nicholson, and his team made the discovery.

He gained his B.Pharm from University College, Nottingham – now the University of Nottingham – in 1945 and after graduation he worked at Boots' penicillin factory.  

After 2 years he moved to Boots' Research Department and took up a research scholarship at Leeds University of Pharmacology, completing his PhD in 1952.

Honours included being made an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in the 1987 New Year Honours, being made Freeman of the City of Nottingham, and having special blue plaques recognising his work unveiled on buildings at the Boots factory and BioCity Nottingham, where his original laboratory was located.

After his retirement he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

He never made any money from the drug he helped discover.

Ibuprofen History

The drug went into clinical use in 1969 after it was found to be effective and to cause fewer side-effects than the other widely used anti-inflammatory drugs at the time, including aspirin.

Clinical trials aside, 'pharmacological folklore', remembers Stewart Adams trying the drug himself after experiencing a vodka-induced hangover at a Moscow pharmacology conference. He found the drug, originally intended for rheumatoid arthritis and given the brand name Brufen, helped his headache

He told the Daily Telegraph in 2007: "That was testing the drug in anger, if you like. But I hoped it really could work magic."

Ibuprofen was cleared for over-the-counter use in 1983. As well as oral forms, it was formulated into topical gels and creams – branded and in generic forms.

It remains a generally well-tolerated medication but cautions are in place over ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because of the increased risk of serious cardiovascular thrombotic events, myocardial infarction (MI), stroke, and serious gastrointestinal adverse events.


In a statement, the University of Nottingham School of Pharmacy said: "The legacy of the continued effectiveness and widespread use of ibuprofen around the world by countless patients is we feel a fitting and lasting memorial to Dr Adams and his work."

The Royal Society of Chemistry said Stewart Adams' discovery "continues to help billions of people around the world".

Seb James, Boots' senior vice president and managing director, said: "Dr Adams made an extraordinary contribution towards numerous scientific discoveries but will be forever remembered for his pioneering research which led to the discovery of ibuprofen during his time at Boots."

The pharmaceutical company RB, maker of ibuprofen-based Nurofen products, said "society has lost a scientific pioneer" and that the drug had "become one of the world’s most well-known and trusted pain relievers".

In the 1987 Telegraph interview he said he would have preferred to have discovered something curative, "not just palliative".

But he said when people "come up and say they have taken the drug and it has really worked, that is when you think you might have achieved something".


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