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Dr David Roblin
vice president of Pfizer Global R&D

In my field, medicine, I think the greatest innovation happened a quarter of a millennium ago. In 1747, a young naval surgeon called James Lind proved that many of the remedies for scurvy, which cost the navy many men, were of no benefit, and that the only truly efficacious remedy was the vitamin C in lemons and limes. This may sound a simple discovery, but the real innovation is that to make it Lind conducted the first ever clinical trial. His methodology remains the foundation of the modern clinical trial – he took a well-defined population of patients, split them into comparator groups and, in parallel, exposed them to various interventions. This remains the way in which we take a scientific hypothesis about the cause of a disease and test the effect of potential treatments. Lind’s work meant that patients are no longer subjected to treatments on the basis of bunkum and anecdotes. It has evolved into today’s double-blind, placebo-controlled study, which remains the most robust way to identify effective treatments and weed out those that are unsafe or of no benefit. And like all good investigators, he published his work, ‘A Treatise of Scurvy’ for external critique – for which we should thank him.

David Roblin is vice president of Pfizer Global R&D.