Industries & Professions /
Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology
Some of the principles and ideas of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology can be traced to the ancient world. The oldest known written records relating to pharmaceutical preparations, which are 5,000 years old, come from the Sumerians of the Middle East. Ancient Indian and Chinese cultures used primitive pharmaceutical applications to treat disease that they believed were caused by the presence of spirits in the body. The ancient Assyrians, Greeks, and Egyptians, who used such medications as castor oil, senna, metallic salts, and a number of plants to cure a variety of illnesses, believed medications and medicine on the whole would purge and purify the body from sin, which they believed caused most illnesses.
It was not until the 1600s that the earliest organized experiments in pharmaceutical preparation began. Exploration of the New World in the 17th century brought many previously unknown substances to the attention of European scientists. The 19th-century French physiologist Francois Magendie is usually credited with the development of organized research in pharmaceutical substances. His studies of the poisons strychnine and carbon monoxide, and the muscle relaxant curare, helped to establish many of the modern principles of pharmacology, an integral part of the modern pharmaceutical industry.
The roots of the modern pharmaceutical industry can be traced to the pharmacies and apothecaries that prepared traditional remedies all the way back to the Middle Ages. In fact, several pharmaceutical companies trace their origins to their founding as town pharmacies. For example, Merck Company, the first pharmaceutical company, was founded in Germany in 1668 as a pharmacy. But it was not until 1827 that Merck transitioned from a pharmacy to a research-based industrial pharmaceutical company.
The pharmaceutical industry as we know it today has its origins starting in the mid-1800s, when industrial production of pharmaceuticals began and many of today’s pharmaceutical giants were founded. Some of the major companies that were founded during this time include Charles Pfizer & Company (1849), Eli Lilly and Company (1876), Johnson & Johnson (1886), Bristol-Myers Squibb (1887), and Abbott Laboratories (1888). Other pharmaceutical companies started out as chemical manufacturers. For instance, Frederich Bayer founded Bayer in Germany in 1863 to make synthetic dyes.
Government regulation of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry began in 1848 with the Drug Importation Act, which restricted the import of substandard or adulterated drugs into the United States. The Federal Food and Drug Act of 1906 prohibited interstate commerce in adulterated or mislabeled drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was formed in 1927 to provide legal enforcement for the 1906 act. In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act went into effect, requiring strict and detailed studies in the development of medications before they could be made available to the general public. Many other laws have been passed to regulate the pharma/biotech industry and protect American consumers.
In 1852, the American Pharmaceutical Association was founded to help pharmacists and others in the pharmaceutical field organize their professional, political, and economic goals.
In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists discovered miracle drugs such as insulin and penicillin, and pharmaceutical companies began to market researchers’ life-saving inventions. The industry continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s as World War II created a demand for more effective drugs. During the 1950s and 1960s, companies started to mass produce and market new drugs such as blood-pressure medications, birth-control pills, and the sedative Valium. In the 1970s, pharmaceutical companies researched and developed new cancer treatments, including chemotherapy.
The field of biotechnology emerged in 1972, when scientists created a modified DNA molecule by recombining DNA from two different organisms. Today, there are more than 1,400 biotech companies in the United States.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was launched in 1990, and completed in 2001. Its mission was to map the entire human genome, with the goal that a complete understanding of the human genome would prompt a variety of breakthroughs in the pharma/biotech industry.
In 1984, the passage of the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, also called the Hatch-Waxman Act, increased generic drug manufacturers’ access to the marketplace. This has resulted in a boom in generic drug sales. Generic drugs made up 70 percent of industry sales in 2012, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
Today, the traditional U.S. pharmaceutical industry is comprised of approximately 100 major companies, according to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. There are also thousands of small biotech companies, some of which have affiliations with large pharmaceutical firms.