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Life and work of Dr. Paul

The patients are waiting

Our history

It’s hard to put a finger on the exact formula to explain someone’s success. Sometimes, it’s being in the right place at the right time. Many times, though, it’s the result of hard work and determination.

That was the case with Dr. Paul Janssen, one of the 20th century's most innovative and inspiring scientists. His work was responsible for many breakthroughs in several fields of disease, including pain management, psychiatry, infectious diseases, mycology, and gastroenterology. Over the course of his long career, he was granted more than 100 patents. Today, 16 Janssen medicines are on the World Health Organisation's List of Essential Medicines.

Dr. Paul, as he was known throughout the global scientific community, was an exceptionally gifted and passionate scientist who revolutionized modern medicine and inspired a new generation of researchers. He was born on 12 September 1926 in Turnhout, Belgium. One particular event during his youth changed his life: his four-year-old sister died of tuberculous meningitis, a loss that affected him deeply. Later in life, he said that this loss drove him to pursue a career in medicine.

Being the son of a doctor who had set up a family business, Dr. Paul became increasingly convinced of the importance of chemistry in medicine. During World War II, he studied physics, biology, and chemistry at the Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix in Namur, Belgium. In his eyes, the biggest challenge was reconciling the two disciplines of pharmacology and chemistry. He attempted to do so and achieved fantastic results. In 1953, Dr. Paul set up his own research laboratory in Turnhout. A few years later, he relocated to Beerse, where he laid the foundation for the more than 80 medicines which have now saved millions of lives.

One of his medicines was the first antipsychotic which allowed patients to be treated at home. Dr. Paul also worked on the development of the most widely used anesthetic worldwide, and also on a treatment for diarrhea, which is still sometimes a fatal disease in developing countries. He would also go on to research a series of compounds to treat HIV/AIDS. One of his last dreams was to find a medicine to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. This medicine would only be discovered and developed after his death by a Janssen research team, and was finally approved in the United States in 2012 and in the European Union in 2014.

Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V. has been part of the Johnson & Johnson group of companies since 1961. In 1985, Dr. Paul set up the first western pharmaceutical company in the People's Republic of China. Dr. Paul’s interest in China would increase even more when several Janssen scientists devoted themselves to restoring the country’s terracotta army. More than 8,000 terracotta soldiers were buried alongside the first Emperor in Xi’an more than 2,200 years ago. When the burial chambers were discovered in 1974, it was hailed as one of the world's greatest archeological finds. However, after being uncovered, the warriors became vulnerable to fungi, which threatened to eat away their façade. Some Janssen researchers dedicated themselves to finding a way to eradicate the fungi. Watch this video to learn more about his resolve to help save China’s national treasure. A research center was set up there with support from Janssen because ongoing treatment is necessary.

Dr. Paul passed away in November 2003. Throughout his lifetime, he received many awards, including five honorary professorships and 22 honorary doctorates. He was author or co-author of more than 850 scientific publications and was an honorary member of more than 30 scientific institutes and organisations.

In 2004, Johnson & Johnson created The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. This prestigious award aims to extend the legacy of Dr. Paul by honoring the work of an active scientist in academia, the pharmaceutical industry, or a scientific institute who has made a significant and transformational contribution towards the improvement of human health.

Watch this video about Dr. Paul from Sir James W. Black, who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988.

Read this personal perspective about Dr. Paul from Sir James W. Black, who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988.

Also read this article in The Pharmacologist published in March 2015, about Dr. Paul’s life and mission, especially in China.

Ultimately, Dr. Paul Janssen’s life was dedicated to discovering and developing medicines which meet the unmet needs of millions of patients. After all, as Dr. Paul often said, ‘There is so much more to be done - patients are waiting.’

CP-346387 | September 2022