Lives of the fellows

Theodore Barker Binns

b.16 June 1916 d.31 May 2011
LDS RCS(1939) LRCP LRCS Edin(1940) FRFPS Glasg(1940) MRCP Edin(1948) MRCS LRCP(1948) MRCP(1949) DCH(1950) FRCP Edin(1965) MRCP Glasg(1970) FRCP(1970) FRCP Glasg(1972) FFPM(1989)

Theodore Barker Binns, known as ‘Terry’, was a clinical pharmacologist of distinction at the time when that specialty was emerging from an interest of a number of physicians into a scientifically-based discipline within medicine. He was born in Middlesbrough, the son of Herbert Theodore Binns, a dental surgeon, and Constance Binns née Jervelund, the daughter of an importer of Danish produce. He was schooled at Loretto and remained in Edinburgh to study medicine and surgery, graduating in 1940.

After house appointments, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1941. He served in the UK, Malta and Italy, and was demobilised in 1946 as a squadron leader. He then worked in registrar posts at the Whittington Hospital, London, at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, and at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

When the National Health Service began in 1948 he was faced with major uncertainty. He decided to move into the pharmaceutical industry, at first to Glaxo Laboratories, and soon became an expert and a valued adviser on the scientific testing of new drugs and the assessment of their adverse effects, together with methods of communicating these findings to both doctors and patients. His work paved the way for the appraisal of several important new remedies. He published many papers in this field, and a well-known textbook, The absorption and distribution of drugs: based on a symposium (London, E & S Livingstone, 1964). Not surprisingly, he was often invited to give evidence about the actions of drugs, to lecture within the pharmaceutical industry and in academic units, and to advise government departments and eventually the World Health Organization.

In 1968 he was invited to become an honorary lecturer to the new department of pharmacology and therapeutics at the London Hospital Medical College. He gave many well-illustrated lectures to medical students and greatly contributed to the research work of the department, through wise and mature consideration of projects and experiments, to the planning of clinical trials and to the discussion of draft papers for publication. His choice of words, his politeness and his understanding of the drug industry were all of inestimable value. There were then few departments of clinical pharmacology outside the USA, where many of the most important new advances in the subject had been made. Binns knew much about these departments, as well as the people involved. He made many helpful introductions to London Hospital staff.

He faithfully visited the London Hospital at least weekly until his move to CIBA Laboratories and eventual promotion as medical director made this invaluable contribution impossible to continue. He left as an honorary senior lecturer, and later gained an honorary professorship.

Binns was unfailingly good-humoured and, though he was very critical of mistaken work, it was always voiced with compassion, good manners and amusement. He was never seen to lose his temper. His careful, accurate and kindly work is remembered by all his former colleagues, who have every reason to be grateful for him. He was ‘a very perfect gentleman’.

He married Frances Mary MacGillivray, the daughter of a general practitioner, in 1953. They had a son and two daughters.

Duncan Vere

[The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh – accessed 20 February 2012]

(Volume XII, page web)

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