Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine awarded to Sir Richard Peto

27 January 2011

The topic

Richard Peto is one of the founders of meta-analysis, a mathematical method in which the outcomes of diverse medical studies are combined to produce a single answer in an objective and logical way. Meta-analysis is at the heart of evidence-based medicine, an approach in which practitioners can nowadays base many treatment decisions on appropriate randomised evidence. Peto also developed new statistical analysis techniques for prospective studies. With Richard Doll, he helped discover that tobacco is a cause of many illnesses other than lung cancer; that half of all smokers will die of it; that stopping smoking can help prevent premature death and that, if current patterns persist, smoking will kill one billion people this century. He and his colleagues at Oxford have conducted internationally influential studies of the treatment of early breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Peto's research has made a significant contribution to public health.

The laureate

Richard Peto (1943) studied natural sciences at Cambridge University. He obtained his MSc in statistics at the University of London in 1967, has been with the University of Oxford since 1969 and was appointed professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology there in 1992. He is, with Rory Collins, one of the two co-directors of the Clinical Trial Service Unit & Epidemiological Studies Unit, a recent recipient of the Queen's Award for Higher and Further Education.

Peto was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1989 for his work on meta-analysis and received a knighthood in 1999 for his achievements in the fields of epidemiology and cancer prevention. He devotes much of his energy to advising and providing information on what he calls 'avoidable death'.

Peto is among the twenty most cited medical researchers in the world and his list of publications runs to almost 500 titles. His previous awards include the Guy Silver Medal from the Royal Statistical Society (1986), La Médaille de la Ville de Paris (1994), and the European Award for Excellence in Stroke Research (1996). He has also been granted two honorary professorships in China, where he was one of the first Western researchers to help initiate and conduct large-scale epidemiological studies.

Examples of key publications

  • Peto, R., Pike, M.C., Armitage P. et al., Design and analysis of randomized trials requiring prolonged observations of each patient, II: analysis and examples. In: Br J Cancer 1977; 35: 1-39
  • Doll, R., Peto, R., The causes of cancer: quantitative estimates of avoidable risks of cancer in the United States today. In: J Natl Cancer Inst 1981; 66; 1191-1308
  • Doll, R., Peto, R., Boreham, J., Sutherland, I., Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years' observations on male British doctors. In: BMJ 2004; 328; 1519-1528
  • Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group, Effects of chemotherapy and hormonal therapy for early breast cancer on recurrence and 15-year survival: an overview of the randomised trials. In: The Lancet 2005; 365: 1687-1717.

The prize

The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine was established in 1989. Previous winners include Paul Lauterbur (Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003), David de Wied, Eric Kandel (Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2000), Barry Marshall (Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005), Elizabeth Blackburn and Mary Claire King. The jury was chaired by Jos van der Meer.

The presentation ceremony

The Heineken Prizes are presented every other year during an extraordinary meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. This year the meeting will be held on Thursday 2 October at the Beurs van Berlage Building in Amsterdam.