The 21st century pharmaceutical and biotech sector has come a long way from its roots in 19th century pharmacy. pharmaphorum looks at its evolution over the centuries.
The roots of the pharmaceutical industry lie back with the apothecaries and pharmacies that offered traditional remedies as far back as the middle ages, offering a hit-and-miss range of treatments based on centuries of folk knowledge.
But the industry as we understand it today really has its origins in the second half of the 19th century. Whilst the scientific revolution of the 17th century had spread ideas of rationalism and experimentation, and the industrial revolution had transformed the production of goods in the late 18th century, the marrying of the two concepts for the benefit of human health was a comparatively late development.
Merck in Germany was possibly the earliest company to move in this direction. Originating as a pharmacy founded in Darmstadt in 1668, it was in 1827 that Heinrich Emanuel Merck began the transition towards an industrial and scientific concern, by manufacturing and selling alkaloids.
Similarly, whilst GlaxoSmithKline’s origins can be traced back as far as 1715, it was only in the middle of the 19th century that Beecham became involved in the industrial production of medicine, producing patented medicine from 1842, and the world’s first factory for producing only medicines in 1859.
America’s pharmaceutical founding fathers
Meanwhile in the USA, Pfizer was founded in 1849