In 1988 The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Sir James Black, jointly with Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings. In their press release they wrote: ‘Sir James W. Black realized the great pharmacotherapeutic potential of receptor blocking drugs and developed in 1964 the first clinically useful beta-receptor blocking drug, propranolol. This type of drug is now being used in the treatment of coronary heart disease (angina pectoris, myocardial infarction) and hypertension. In 1972 Black characterized a new group of histamine receptors, H2-receptors, and subsequently developed the first clinically useful H2-receptorantagonist, cimetidine. A new principle in the treatment of peptic ulcer was thereby introduced.’ The new drugs he invented not only enabled mechanistic discoveries that changed our understanding of physiology and pathophysiology but also changed medical practice to the great benefit of mankind. In the present issue we co-publish with our sister journal BJP, in tribute, an inspirational paper by James Black titled ‘A life in new drug research’, together with an obituary by Alan McGregor.