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23 November 2020

Professor Leslie Iversen CBE 1937 - 2020

Tribute to Professor Leslie Iversen CBE, Director of Wolfson CARD from 1999 – 2004, who passed away in July 2020.

Image of Professor Leslie Iversen
Professor Leslie Iversen

Leslie Lars Iversen CBE gained both his BA in Biochemistry and his PhD in Pharmacology at Cambridge University before continuing a career at the forefront of research on neurotransmitters and neuropeptides and understanding the mode of action of CNS drugs.

From 1971 to 1982, he was Director of the MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology Unit in Cambridge. At NCPU, he initiated work in a number of ground-breaking areas: the functions of neuropeptides such as substance P in sensory processes including pain; the mechanism of action of anti-psychotic drugs and the neural basis of schizophrenia and the neurochemical basis of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. The unit established one of the first brain banks to collect postmortem tissue from people who had died with neurodegenerative diseases.

I knew Les well when he was head of the MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology Unit, which was housed in the Dept of Pharmacology at Cambridge University in the 1970’s. I was a lowly research fellow in the Dept, trying to make my way in science. Les was always charming and informal in his interactions with me, in spite of his much more senior position, and often asked how my work was going. He was a charming person, reserved but with a dry sense of humour

Professor Peter McNaughton, former colleague and Professor of Pharmacology at Wolfson CARD
(L-R: HRH The Princess Royal, Lady Wolfson, Professors Bob Hider, Leslie Iversen & Pat Doherty)
(L-R: HRH The Princess Royal, Lady Wolfson, Professors Bob Hider, Leslie Iversen & Pat Doherty)

Between 1982 and 1995 he worked as Director of the Merck, Sharp & Dohme Neuroscience Research Centre. In 1995, he became Visiting Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford.

In 1999 until 2004 he was Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King’s College London.

Les did some amazing work and I got to know him after he returned to King’s. At the University of California San Diego I got to know Les and his family well as every summer they would spend at least a month in La Jolla. His passing is a very sad loss for neuroscience. His family are in my thoughts at this difficult time.

Professor Ian Everall, IoPPN Executive Dean

Professor Iversen was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and gave the Society's Ferrier Lecture in 1983. In 1981 he was made Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1995 he also became a Visiting Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford. He was also Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs at the Home Office. He was appointed a fellow of the Royal Society in 1980, and in 2013 he was awarded a CBE. 

I am honoured that the Wolfson CARD is associated with Professor Leslie Iversen, head of department from 1999 to 2004. His contributions to Neuropharmacology are well-known and outstanding. During my PhD, I worked on the role of substance P in chronic pain and followed with great interest the work of Iversen at Merck aiming to develop analgesic drugs which interacted with the substance P receptor. I trust younger researchers working at the Wolfson CARD - and the whole IoPPN - will find inspiration from the scientific achievements of Professor Leslie Iversen

Professor Marzia Malcangio, Head of Wolfson CARD

For a longer look over Professor Iversen’s impressive life and career, please see his obituary in the Guardian.

The thoughts and deepest sympathies of the IoPPN community are with Professor Iversen’s family, work colleagues and friends.