System of Invention

In 1939, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Gerhard Domagk, a medical researcher employed by the German fine chemicals company I.G. Farbenindustrie. Domagk was cited for his recognition of the antibacterial activity of Prontosil, by that time recognized as the first of a new class of antibacterial agents, the sulfa drugs. Domagk's first findings related to Prontosil were dated 1932, and the first publication, 1935. In fact, the research program from which Prontosil emerged...

The Invention of Prontosil

Among these several lines of work, research in the chemotherapy of bacterial infections took an early and prominent place. Domagk was evidently moved in this direction by a convergence of personal inclination and institutional circumstance. His war experience had brought home to him the awful power of infectious disease and the medical profession's helplessness in the face of its ravages. His habilitation research and first publication had examined aspects of bacterial infection and the nature...

The Industrialization of Innovation

Pharmaceutical research at Bayer I.G. Farben, and chemotherapeutic research in particular, was a product of, and was incorporated into, a system of innovation elaborated over several decades in the German fine chemicals industry. The research and development enterprise of Bayer I.G. Farben consisted of an aggregate of devices, artifacts (e.g., compounds), organizational structures, trained personnel, and other resources in which substantial capital had been invested. The direction of the...

Mercurachrome in Decline

How many physicians made use of mercurachrome in their practices is not known. What is certain is that already by the mid-1920s Young's work was being criticized, at least implicitly, by researchers whose aims were to develop rigorous methods for the evaluation of new chemotherapeutic agents and, if possible, to establish a rational basis for chemotherapy. These investigators shared Young's optimism and sense of urgency regarding bacterial chemotherapy, his appeal to Ehrlich as an inspiration...

The Vogue for Mercurachrome

The felt need, the optimism, and equally, the limitations of chemotherapeutic investigation in the 1920s are well exemplified by the vogue for mercu-rachrome that rose, peaked, and fell within the space of a decade. Its initiator was Hugh Hampton Young, a surgeon who had joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1898, after coming to Johns Hopkins for postgraduate work in 1895. Young was an innovator in the surgery of the genitourinary system, and in the 1910s was in...