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Hester Dies At 80

Upjohn medicinal chemist designed major drugs

by Susan J. Ainsworth
December 9, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 49

Hester Jr.
Credit: Courtesy of the Hester family
This is a photo of Jackson B. Hester Jr.
Credit: Courtesy of the Hester family

Jackson B. Hester Jr., 80, a prolific medicinal chemist who invented Upjohn’s drugs Xanax and Halcion, died of cancer on Oct. 10.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Hester received a B.S. in chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1960.

Hester then began his long career at Upjohn, investigating the relationship between pharmacological activity and chemical structure in several important classes of compounds. In particular, he focused on the treatment of anxiety and other mental disorders.

He worked to make additions to the compound benzo­diazepine that could both increase and modify its biological effects. His research resulted in a new class of compounds, triazolobenzodiazepines. On the basis of this work, he developed Halcion (triazolam), which is used to treat insomnia, and the anxiety medication Xanax (alprazolam).

Later in his career, Hester focused his research on developing treatments for hypertension and ventricular fibrillation. He invented the drug Ibutilide, which is used to treat atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Credited with more than 120 patents, Hester retired in 2004 from Pharmacia, which had merged with Upjohn in 1995.

John McCall, who worked alongside Hester at Upjohn and is now president of his own company, PharMac, says, “Jack Hester was quite amazing in that the compounds that he made tended to be active, selective, and pharmacokinetically acceptable,” meaning they could be absorbed and metabolized. “He succeeded without making thousands of compounds. I think that his great skill was integrating his extensive experiences in chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, and safety at the point of compound design,” he adds. “Impressively, Jack remained confident in his ability but humble about his accomplishments.”

Hester’s many accolades include the 1989 Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association Discoverers Award.

He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1955. Earlier this year, he was named an ACS Loyal Donor, a designation that recognizes those who have made 10 donations in the past decade to help build the foundation of the society’s educational programs.

A quiet gentleman who avoided the limelight, Hester loved being outdoors and cultivated a beautiful garden each summer.

Hester’s wife, Judith, died in 2004. He is survived by his sons, Michael and Matthew, and two grandchildren.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.



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