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Chapter 8 Page 3
The Conventional Medical Paradigm
The Civil War vastly expanded demand for and interest in pharmaceutical products. Although willow bark was used as a pain reliever, the principal constituent in it, salicylic acid, was discovered and isolated in 1853 by French Chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt. The German company Bayer AG created the first trademarked aspirin product (comprised of salicylic acid) of higher potency in 1899. In 1860 there were some 84 manufacturers of pharmaceutical products in the United States but by 1870 that number more than tripled to 300. Increasingly, medical practice focused on the provision of pills or liquid admixtures as treatments. The mass manufacture of medicines became a lucrative business, but it would require another two great wars, World War I and World War II, to transform pharmaceutical business into very big business and to make drugs the understood treatments of choice for almost every disease.
The medicines available in World War I were only slightly more advanced than those used in the Civil War. In 1900, however, Karl Landsteiner, a Viennese pathologist, invented the ABO system of blood groups, and proved instrumental in the development of blood transfusions. Landsteiner founded the field of immunohematology.
The enormous global carnage of World War II created demand for standardized, field ready disease treatments like never before. That enormous demand led to the creation of large pharmaceutical manufacturers and the formal establishment of chemistry labs in those commercial enterprises for the discovery of new drugs capable of mass manufacture.
The most awe-inspiring discoveries that cemented the privileged role of pharmaceutical companies in society and with the government were the so-called “sulfa drugs” which proved effective agents in combating a wide range of infectious diseases and then, smash it of them all, the “wonder drugs,” the antibiotics.
The sulfonamides were the first effective agents to treat bacterial infection that were mass manufactured and marketed worldwide. The first sulfonamide, Prontosil, was invented at Bayer AG in 1932. Bayer AG was a subsidiary of the enormous German chemical company IG Farben. Before Prontosil, no drug existed for public use that could effectively treat a wide range of bacterial infections. Although capable of producing significant, even life threatening adverse effects, Prontosil proved to be life saving in the battle against bacterial infection raging in field hospitals as well as in combating bacterial ailments on the home front.