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What Were Some of The Most Important Drug Discoveries?
Drug Discovery
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Less than 100 years ago, society lacked many of the medicines we now take for granted for treating infections, heart disease and cancer. It’s difficult to comprehend that the average life expectancy of an American in 1900 was just 47 years, compared to 76.5 years today.

As is the case in many scientific fields, some advances came about while researchers were in pursuit of an entirely different solution, and most were a trial-and-error process.

Pharmaceutical research has helped transform medical care from a system of symptom abatement to one of evidence-based solutions.

Below are just some of the advances in medicine that have had significant impact on the lives of people around the world.


In 1928 Dr. Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist with St.

Mary’s Hospital in London, observed that a mold has sprouted in a petri dish. He observed that bacteria covered the whole dish with the exception of where the mold was. Fleming realized the mold delivered an anti-bacterial action, named it penicillin, but he didn’t do anything with his discovery. It wasn’t until 1940 that Howard Florey and Ernest Chain, scientists at Oxford University, began to develop penicillin as a therapeutic agent. By the mid-1940s, several U.S.- based pharmaceutical companies were producing purified penicillin. By the time America entered World War 2, there was enough penicillin available to treat soldiers in the battlefield.


Before 1921, diabetes mellitus was a death sentence.

Scientists discovered in the late 19th century the insulin, the hormone produced by a healthy pancreas, regulated blood sugar, but attempts to isolate the hormone failed until University of Toronto physician Frederick Banting was successful in doing so in 1921. Working with the university and Banting, Lilly, a U.S.

phamaceutical company developed methods to collect, extract, purify and mass produce insulin. In 1923 insulin became commercially available.


Felix Hoffman, a chemist working with Germany’s Bayer Company in the 1890s sought a pain-relieving agent for his father who had arthritis. He eventually settled on salicylic acid which is derived from willow bark. Hoffman developed a chemical derivative of salicylic acid as well as commercial methods for producing the drug. The product was calledaspirin.

‘Sulfur Drugs’

In 1933, Gerhard Domagk. a scientist working with I.G. Farben, a large German chemical firm, discovered that a sulfur-containing dye called Prontosil killed bacteria in mice. Within weeks, the sulfur substance was used to effectively halt a blood stream staph infection in a young child. Soon, sulfur medicines were put to use in stopping the growth of bacteria in the body while natural defenses fought off an infection.


Chemotherapy was an idea developed by Paul Ehrlich, a German scientist, in the early 1990s. Following the development of quinine, a drug used to treat malaria, Ehrlich sought to develop synthetic drugs that would kill offending cells without damaging other cells.

The first, though largely unsuccessful use of chemotherapy for treating cancer wasmustard gas, the same gas used as a weapon during World War 1. While mustard gas killed cancer cells it also killed healthy cells and offered minimal life extension. The use of cortisone to treat leukemia had similar results. Methotrexate, an early and more successful anti-cancer drug was developed by Lederic Laboratories in 1948, and Burroughs Wellcome Co. researchers George Hitchings and Gertrude Elion followed in the early 1950s with anti-metabolites for leukemia. These drugs were different because they were specifically designed to interfere with DNA production in cells and thus interrupt cell growth.

Courtesy – about money

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