Neuvonen was born on 25th August 1943 in Kirvu on the Karelian Isthmus in former Finnish territory. He grew up in Orimattila in Southern Finland and completed his upper secondary school in 1962. He studied medicine at the University of Helsinki and graduated as a licentiate of medicine in 1970. He became interested in drug research already during his medical studies, and successfully defended his doctoral thesis in 1971. After his dissertation, he received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1971, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Hannover Medical School in Hanover, Germany.
After returning from Hanover to Helsinki, Neuvonen focused strongly on research related to practical pharmacotherapy, as well as on the development of the role of clinical pharmacology in healthcare; the medical specialty of clinical pharmacology had been established in 1966 and was still in its infancy in Finland. He graduated as a specialist in clinical pharmacology in 1977. During the 1970s and 1980s, his determined and productive scientific career progressed, and he was elected Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Turku in 1988. Four years later, in 1992, he was elected Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Chief Physician at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Central Hospital. After working for 20 years in this position, he retired in 2011 but remained scientifically active.
Neuvonen’s scientific achievements were exceptionally impressive and changed treatment practices worldwide. Already in the 1970s, he gained international reputation by characterizing the clinically significant interactions of tetracyclines with iron and other divalent cations. His studies of oral activated charcoal in the 1970s and 1980s consolidated his international reputation. His work played a central role in the expansion of the use of activated charcoal in the treatment of poisonings in the 1990s, whereby activated carbon displaced emetics (ipecac) and gastric lavage as gastrointestinal decontamination methods. For these merits, he was awarded The Drug Absorption Foundation Lecturer (Edinburgh) in 1993.
In the early 1990s, Pertti Neuvonen focused his research efforts on the roles of the inhibition and induction of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in drug interactions, eventually becoming one of the most actively followed scientists in this field. His team identified dozens of harmful interactions involving commonly used drugs, such as lipid-lowering drugs, cardiovascular drugs, glucocorticoids, antimicrobial agents, antidiabetic drugs, antiasthmatic drugs, analgesics and psychotropic drugs. His findings also paved the way for understanding the mechanisms of pharmacokinetic drug interactions and for predicting these interactions from in vitro studies. In addition to directly improving patient care and being a valuable source in textbooks, drug interaction databases and treatment guidelines, conclusions based on Neuvonen’s systematic research also advanced research methods and regulatory guidelines for drug interactions studies.
In total, Neuvonen published more than 500 original scientific articles and numerous review articles. The outstanding scientific value of his work is reflected in the high number of citations to his articles. For his scientific achievements, he was awarded the first BCPT Nordic Prize in Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology in 2011, and the European Association for Clinical Pharmacology (EACPT) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. Neuvonen has been a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters since 1998.
Neuvonen greatly valued education in clinical pharmacology and drug research, and he worked tirelessly to develop the specialty of clinical pharmacology and train specialists in the field in Finland. He actively contributed to development of the treatment of poisonings and the utilization of therapeutic drug monitoring in Finland. He was one of the founding members of the Finnish Society of Clinical Pharmacology, established in 1994. He was the main architect and editor-in-chief of the Finnish clinical pharmacology textbook published in 1994, 2002 and 2011. For his meritorious work in educating medical researchers in Finland, he received the Lauri Saxén Prize in 1997 and the Maud Kuistila Award in 2003. He personally supervised nearly 50 PhD dissertations, and was an important mentor and contributor to multiple other PhD projects and academic careers. Several of his former students have reached professorship, substantiating his skills as an inspiring academic mentor.