Lives of the fellows

Josep Font

b.5 March 1953 d.26 July 2006
MD Barcelona(1976) PhD(1984) FRCP(2004)

Josep Font founded and served as senior consultant and head of the department of auto-immune diseases at the Hospital Clinic, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, and as associate professor at the department of medicine of the University of Barcelona. He was born in Barcelona, a city which remained his lifelong home and workplace. Like all Catalans, he loved and felt proud of his city, which he knew like few others. He studied medicine at the University of Barcelona, a stone’s throw from his home in the centre of the Eixample district, and graduated with honours in 1976. While still a student, Josep was admitted as an intern to the department of internal medicine of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, at that time headed by Joan Vivancos, under the chair of internal medicine, Alfons Balcells-Gorina. During this period he acquired most of the personal and professional characteristics that would mould his life and made lifelong friendships with teachers and fellow students. This time also saw the awakening of his interest in systemic lupus erythematosus and auto-immune diseases, which would constitute his life’s work. Between 1978 and 1982, Font completed his training in the department of internal medicine, then headed by Miguel Ingelmo, and became a full-time staff physician, a position he would hold until 1995.

In 1995 he organised, together with Miguel Ingelmo and Ricard Cervera, the department of auto-immune diseases, a pioneering centre in Europe, which combined clinical management, research, teaching and the raising awareness of this group of diseases. In 2002, Font was named head of department. One of the most vital and fruitful aspects of this department has been the collaboration with the world-renowned lupus research unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. A period spent working at this unit in 1996 saw the beginning of a close friendship with Graham R V Hughes and Munther A Khamashta, whose scientific results are best represented by the annual Ten Topics in Autoimmune Diseases and Rheumatology meeting, now in its ninth year. Like Hughes and Khamashta, Josep Font was able to instil a sense of the importance of group collaboration in the sometimes competitive and demanding environment of a teaching hospital. As a result, the department of auto-immune diseases has become, in a little more than ten years, a national and international reference centre and has created a model for countless other services, units and centres of a similar nature, especially in Europe and Latin America, many led by doctors who trained under him and benefited not only from his scientific knowledge but also from his personal kindness.

The research output of Josep Font and his group has been prodigious, with a total of over 500 scientific articles published. These include the characterisation of silent lupus nephropathy, valvular involvement and the long term evolution of systemic lupus erythematosus, and the initial descriptions of the primary and catastrophic variants of antiphospholipid syndrome, as well as the auto-immune manifestations associated with hepatitis C virus infection. In 2004 he was made a Fellow of the College and in 2005, jointly with Yehuda Shoenfeld, Pier Luigi Meroni and Ricard Cervera, received the prestigious prize of the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR) for research into the infectious origin of the antiphospholipid syndrome.

Josep Font actively participated in many medical organisations. He was instrumental in founding the European Working Party on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and HISPAMEC (Hispano-American Group for the study of extrahepatic manifestations of hepatitis C virus infection). He was also a past president of the Catalan-Balearic Society of Internal Medicine (from 1996 to 2004) and was a board member of the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine (from 1996 to 2004). He played a substantial role in the life and organisation of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, as a member of various committees and working groups.

His published work include a dozen monographs. He will also be remembered as the organiser of the VI International Conference on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Barcelona, 2001) and the V Meeting of the European Forum on Antiphospholipid Antibodies (Barcelona, 2005), as well as the annual Ten Topics meetings in Barcelona and London.

Until the end, Josep continued to see patients in his overcrowded out-patients clinic and he was the main promoter of the Catalan Lupus Patients’ Association and gave his time unstintingly to similar groups.

Outside the hospital, he had many interests. His love of Barcelona was only matched by his love of books and it was not unusual to meet him coming or going to a bookshop, fair or auction. His knowledge of antique medical books and medical instruments was considerable.

Josep Font died peacefully ‘at home’ in the Hospital Clinic, accompanied by his family, friends, colleagues and students, from pancreatic cancer, which he himself had diagnosed some three months previously. He fought tenaciously against the disease, but also provided an example to all by continuing with a full work load until five days before his death, sustained by his faith and never yielding to despair. His life and the manner of his death will remain a lasting memory to all who had the great fortune to know him.

Ricard Cervera

(Volume XII, page web)

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