Many of today's big pharmaceutical firms have roots that go back to the late 19th or early 20th century. Not all of these companies started out as drug manufacturers. For instance, Frederich Bayer founded Bayer in Germany in 1863 to make synthetic dyes. In the 1920s and 1930s, scientists discovered miracle drugs such as insulin and penicillin, and pharmaceutical companies began to market researchers' life-saving inventions. During the 1950s and 1960s, companies started to mass produce and market new drugs, such as blood-pressure medications, birth control pills and Valium.
Pharmaceutical companies researched and developed new cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, in the 1970s. The modern biotech business was born when Herbert Boyer and Robert Swanson founded Genentech, which would eventually make breast cancer biologic Herceptin. In the 1980s, drug companies faced new environmental and safety regulations in many countries around the world, as well as mounting economic pressures. For Big Pharma, the 1990s was a time of turmoil. There were lots of mergers and acquisitions in the industry during that decade, and pharmaceutical companies also began to use contract research organisations for more of their R&D efforts.
Despite life-saving, cancer-fighting drugs and significant corporate philanthropy, Big Pharma's recent product recalls and concerns over drug safety have made it the industry many people love to hate. In 2007, diabetes medication Avandia made the headlines after researchers found it increased patients' risk of heart attack.