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Friday 9 July 2004


Dr John Dixon

Public Orator, Professor Ray Jones presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Friday 9 July 2004 at 10.30am.

Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to introduce John Dixon, Vice-President of Discovery at our Loughborough neighbours AstraZeneca Charnwood, honoured today for outstanding contributions to Medical Science.

A native of Cumbria, John studied at University of Leeds, where he learnt the excitement of Organic Chemistry, completing a PhD in organic synthesis. During this time he married Pam. He added to his experience as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Ottowa, working on reactive intermediates, and at University of Liverpool working in heterocyclic chemistry. This portfolio equipped him perfectly for the pharmaceutical industry, which he entered in 1972 as a Medicinal Chemist with Fisons Pharmaceuticals in Loughborough.

When just 30 years old, John was surprised to be promoted to Head of Medicinal Chemistry, a position he held for 20 years while gathering additional responsibilities and eventually becoming Director of Chemistry. At first he carried on bench work whilst running the department, and he has always seen experimental work as the one unambiguous demonstration of value. Today’s graduates will do well to remember the importance of practical skills in science!

Within a company that was overall in decline, John built up a strong unit with an enviable reputation for novel research in difficult areas, a major achievement that paved the way for later developments in Loughborough. He personally invented one cardiovascular drug now on the market, and oversaw the discovery of another marketed drug for treating asthma. Many other compounds emerged from the cardiovascular, respiratory, inflammation and gastrointestinal research areas, and are progressing towards becoming marketed drugs in due course. John put enormous effort into attracting top-class chemists to join Fisons rather than more well-known organisations. He persuaded Fisons to make a massive investment in new labs, opened in 1993 and still a leading example of modern lab design. The Loughborough unit was bought in 1995 by Astra, who expressed their confidence with major investment. John became Vice-President of Research in the new Astra Charnwood, and Vice-President of Discovery when merger with Zeneca in 1999 created AstraZeneca Charnwood, part of one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies.

John’s success has been to achieve investment while never losing track of the basic science. It is important to him that research in Loughborough continues to be respected. He can be proud of his contribution to the understanding of drug-like properties by integration of Medicinal Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Drug Metabolism in a way now recognised around the industry. He is a great defender of science. He has had a personal involvement with several UK universities, both local and elsewhere, and Charnwood scientists have interactions and collaborations with many UK universities. His contribution to chemical employment in the UK, in particular in the East Midlands, was recognised by The Royal Society of Chemistry with a special award as ‘a chemist and as an employer of chemists’.

Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, Dr John Dixon for the degree of DOCTOR OF SCIENCE honoris causa.


Loughborough University - Degree Speeches 2004, July 2004
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