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Japanese scientist Akira Endo, discoverer of statins, dies

In 1973, the biochemist found mevastatin, the first type of statin with the ability to reduce the concentration of "bad cholesterol" in the blood.

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(AFP / VOZ MEDIA) The Japanese microbiologist and biochemist Akira Endo, the discoverer of statins, the drugs that revolutionized the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, has died at the age of 90, one of his former colleagues told AFP on Tuesday.

The scientist died last Wednesday, biochemist Keiji Hasumi and former pupil and companion of Akira Endo, told AFP. As well as defined Endo as "hard and strict, very insightful. He could see the hidden essence of things," said Hasumi.

Endo was born in 1933 to a farming family in Akita, a town in northern Japan. Since childhood he was fascinated by the way mushrooms and other molds affected living things.

His grandfather, who was interested in medicine, encouraged him to develop his interest and was his "great teacher," Endo wrote in his autobiography published in 2008.

In college, Endo became interested in antibiotics such as penicillin, and was "very impressed" with all the lives the drugs had managed to save.

In the late 1960s, he conducted research at New York College of Medicine, where he was surprised by the large number of overweight older people. "I realized that it was necessary to develop a drug against cholesterol," he recalls in his autobiography.

After returning to Japan, Endo worked at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and for the pharmaceutical company Sankyo, today part of the Daiichia Sankyo group.

Mevastatin, Akira Endo's first great discovery

The biochemist studied 6,000 strains of microbes for two years before discovering mevastatin in 1973, the first type of statin with the ability to reduce the concentration of LDL, the "bad cholesterol", in the blood.

More than 200 million people in the world take this type of medication and, according to studies, the value of the global statin market is $15 billion. But several controversies about the possible harmfulness or ineffectiveness of statins caused many people to abandon these treatments.

However, according to a meta-analysis published in 2022 in the European Heart Journal, a cardiology medical journal, statin intolerance would have been overdiagnosed.

Thanks to his scientific work, Akira Endo received numerous awards for his discoveries, such as the Albert Lasker Award for Medical Research in 2008.

"Their work has the same value and impact as the discovery of penicillin," Hasumi declared.