Friday, June 8, 2012

Department of Medicine hosts inaugural distinguished alumni lecture


RESIDENT RETURNS: Thier and Ausiello present Vagelos, at center, with a pewter replica of the Bulfinch Building.


When P. Roy Vagelos, MD, started his MGH medical residency as part of the class of 1954, he planned for a lifelong career focused on practicing medicine. However, while the residency dramatically strengthened his commitment to improving health care, it also led him down an unexpected professional path.

Vagelos, MD, now retired chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck and Co. Inc., was the featured speaker at the Inaugural Distinguished Department of Medicine Alumni Lecture May 22 in the Ether Dome. During his “Optimizing Drug Discovery” presentation, Vagelos discussed his career as a biochemist and as lead scientist behind the creation of the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs Lovostatin and Zocor. 

“We are blessed with incredibly talented people – many who stay here at the MGH, but many who go on to do other wonderful things,” said Dennis Ausiello, MD, chief of the MGH Department of Medicine, who co-hosted the lecture with Samuel O. Thier, MD, former president of the MGH and former president and CEO of Partners HealthCare. “Roy was instrumental in developing those first statins – which are perhaps the single most important drugs created in the last 50 years. We couldn’t be more proud to have him here today to speak at this inaugural lecture, an event we hope will now become a tradition.”

Vagelos reviewed some of his key contributions during his time at Merck, including his advocacy efforts in the treatment of parasitic river blindness in sub-Saharan Africa. For the past 25 years, the company has helped provide the annual drug protocol free of charge, with more than 100 million people receiving treatment last year alone. Thanks to these efforts the disease has been eradicated in some areas.

Vagelos also played a key role in reducing the number of hepatitis B cases in China after Merck worked with the Chinese government to train their scientists and manufacturers to produce the vaccine. Today, Vagelos said, 99 percent of infants in China are immunized within 48 hours of their birth, ensuring they will not become carriers of the virus.

“What helped make it possible was my knowledge of human biology from the medical education that I gained right here at the MGH,” Vagelos said. “I’m really delighted to be back here with you.” 

Read more articles from the 06/08/12 Hotline issue.

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