IN MEMORIAM: Torgny H Svensson 1945-2020

With great sadness, we report that Professor Torgny H. Svensson passed away due to covid-19 earlier this summer. He died on Friday, June 12, 2020 after a short period of illness.

Torgny Svensson was born on May 15, 1945 in Gothenburg, where he grew up and completed his medical training. He became a Ph.D. student at the Department of Pharmacology, with the world-leading psychopharmacologist and later Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson as the supervisor. After defending his thesis in 1971, he became a postdoc in George K Aghajanian’s, another world authority in the field, group at Yale University. Here he acquired the electrophysiological technique he then successfully applied to an extensive range of psychopharmacological issues. After returning to the Department of Pharmacology in Gothenburg Sweden, he formed his own research group and supervised his first doctoral students. After being a visiting scientist at another internationally leading laboratory, Floyd Bloom’s at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, from 1981-82, he obtained a professorship in pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute (KI), at the age of 38. With the exception of another stay abroad, at Université de Lyon (1989), he spent the rest of his professional life at KI. In total, 21 PhD students defended their thesis under Torgny’s supervision.

Torgny managed the legacy of Arvid Carlsson brilliantly and was early internationally recognized for his efforts, including how the activity of the brain's catecholaminergic neurons is regulated and modulated by drugs and addictive substances. In recent decades, he mainly focused on possible ways to enhance the therapeutic effect of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs.

Torgny also made significant contributions to the scientific community outside of his research. For six years (2000-2005), he was the President of the Scandinavian College of Neuropsychopharmacology (SCNP). Torgny envisioned an international role for the society, and developed its current international profile – from ‘Skandinavisk Selskab for Psykofarmakologi’ to ‘ Scandinavian College of Neuropsychopharmacology’. Under his leadership, the language at the meetings was changed to English, hereby attracting high profiled foreign scientists helped by the visionary move of the annual meetings from cold Scandinavia to Southern France. During these years, SCNP flourished, attracting higher attendance, more than 700 delegates, than ever before to the annual congresses.

Torgny also served as president (2006-2008) of the only global organization for psychopharmacology ¬– International College of Neuropsychopharmacology (CINP). For two decades, he was also a member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.

Torgny Svensson appreciated the intellectual aspects of research: the theoretical reasoning, the formulation, and questioning of hypotheses, the scientific argumentation. But at the same time, his thinking and activities were permeated by the ambition to improve the situation for patients with mental illness. To this, his conviction that research should be clinically relevant certainly originated in the fact that he, at a young age, served as a psychiatrist and made a great impression on this experience.

He received numerous awards for his research, such as the ECNP-Lilly Neuroscience Award,  in 2000, and - as late as 2020 - the prestigious CINP Pioneer Award.

Torgny Svensson was a central person in Scandinavian pharmacological research and had a vast international contact network. He combined an impressive analytical ability and a genuine interest in the scientific issues with a good mood and a few drastic jokes - even during the most serious and complicated scientific discussions, his ability to attract laughter was not far. Psychopharmacology will be boring without him.

The international psychopharmacology has lost a leader and we, his friends an always equally enthusiastic discussion partner.

Torgny is survived by his wife Louise and three adult children Jenny, Martin, and Michael, as well as grandchildren.

On the initiative of Torgny’s former PhD students and colleagues, we will initiate a scientific prize, The Torgny H. Svensson Award in his honor. This award will be announced in connection to the annual SCNP conference and the recipient will be invited to give a lecture.


Donors to the Torgny H. Svensson Award can be found here