Lives of the fellows

Andrew Herxheimer

b.4 November 1925 d.21 February 2016
MB BS Lond(1949) MRCP(1972) FRCP(1977)

Andrew Herxheimer was an eminent clinical pharmacologist and champion of evidence-based medicine and patients’ rights. Born in Berlin into a secular Jewish family, Andrew came to England in 1938, aged 12, together with his parents Ilse (née Koenig) and Herbert and sister Eva. His father ‘Hx’, a medical professor and pioneer of sport’s medicine, had been invited to London by Archibald Hill on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning.

Andrew went to Highgate School, north London, and then to St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1949. After house posts and National Service in the RAMC, he was a senior medical casualty officer at St Thomas’ and then a lecturer there in therapeutics. From 1958 to 1959 he was a Nuffield medical fellow at the University of Utah, USA. In 1959 he was appointed to the department of pharmacology at the London Hospital, then from 1976 to 1991 he was a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics and a consultant at Charing Cross Medical School. From 1968 to 1977 he was also an extraordinary professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.

In 1962 he founded the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), modelling it on the American Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, and edited it for 30 years. Published by the Consumers’ Association, it was distributed by the Department of Health to NHS doctors and pharmaceutical advisers throughout the UK. The aim was to provide clear, consumer-orientated advice that was independent of government and regulatory authorities. Under Herxheimer’s leadership, the DTB’s circulation rose to 90,000 and it had a significant and lasting influence on prescribing habits and medical thinking. Andrew was known for his critical and fearless attitude towards the pharmaceutical industry.

Following his retirement from Charing Cross, Andrew joined researcher Iain Chalmers in Oxford, where in 1993 he helped to establish the Cochrane Collaboration, a network of researchers reviewing and analysing clinical trials worldwide, free of commercial sponsorship. Weeks before his 90th birthday, speaking at a Cochrane conference in Vienna, he warned that adverse effects of medicines should be taken more seriously.

In 1999 Andrew was again central to the launch of another major initiative: together with Ann McPherson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] he founded DIPEx (Database of Individual Patients Experiences), where patients can watch videos of other people talking about their experiences of illness. This developed on a massive scale and currently covers around 100 health-related issues. Now called healthtalk and based at the department of primary health care in Oxford, the website (www.healthtalk.org) received five million visits in 2015. The global reach of this delighted Andrew (he is recognised as a founder of DIPEx International), who was an ardent internationalist, not least due to his negative childhood experiences in Nazi Germany.

Among other roles, he was a member of the British National Formulary committee from 1966 to 1973, chairman of the health working group at Consumers International from 1980 to 1996, a founding member and strong supporter of Health Action International from 1981 to 2016, chairman of the International Society of Drug Bulletins from 1986 to 1996 and a member of the permanent council of La revue prescrire, Paris, from 1992 to 2016. He was a consultant and temporary adviser on various occasions to the World Health Organization on pharmaceuticals, human reproduction and drug dependence; he travelled to countries including Syria, Nepal and the Philippines to support government programmes for essential drugs. He was also an expert witness for many years (until 2015) for offenders who had shown violent behaviour after taking SSRI antidepressants.

Andrew was married twice. In 1961 he married textile designer Susan Collier, with whom he had two daughters, Charlotte and Sophie. They were divorced in 1974 and in 1983 he married Christine Bernecker, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst from Germany. He had four grandchildren – Lola, Brodie, Rosa and Conrad.

He had many interests and was always full of ideas; apart from being a brilliant editor, he was a witty wordsmith and could pun in four languages – English, German, French and Dutch. He was a man on a mission and worked tirelessly with great enthusiasm until the day before he died, hit by a massive stroke. As his colleague Trish Greenhalgh tweeted: ‘since Andrew died, the planet has already become a less interesting place’.

Christine, Charlotte and Sophie Herxheimer

[BMJ 2016 352 1566 www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i1556 – accessed 25 October 2016; The Guardian 25 March 2016 www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/25/andrew-herxheimer-obituary – accessed 25 October 2016; The Times 6 April 2016 www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/register/andrew-herxheimer-cjd0qmtcm – accessed 25 October 2016; Cochrane UK In memoriam: Andrew Herxheimer (1925-2016) http://uk.cochrane.org/news/memoriam-andrew-herxheimer – accessed 25 October 2016; healthtalk.org News & Blog 21 February 2016 Andrew Herxheimer, 1925-2016 www.healthtalk.org/content/andrew-herxheimer-1925-2016 – accessed 25 October 2016; pharmaceutical-journal.com www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/obituary/andrew-herxheimer-19252016/20200864.article – accessed 25 October 2016; Wikipedia Andrew Herxheimer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Herxheimer – accessed 25 October 2016; The Lancet 2016 387 (10028) 1612 www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30210-0/fulltext?rss=yes – accessed 25 October 2016; British Pharmacological Society www.bps.ac.uk/BPSMemberPortal/media/BPSWebsite/Assets/Andrew-Herxheimer.pdf?ext=.pdf – accessed 25 October 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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