Life Expectancy Improvement over the last 2 centuries

The moment you realize if you were content writing in 1850s there would barely be any readers

Above is the Statistical graph of India’s Life expectancy which has considerably improved ( The graph would resemble this for most countries ) over the last one hundred years. I could break down the curves to different events in history that corresponded with the pharmaceutical milestones . In 2020 we stand at a life expectancy rate of 69. in the 1850s the expectancy rate was 25-27. Today we seem to be a different species altogether. I’d give a good amount of credit to improvements in sanitation, housing, and education, which caused a steady decline in early and mid-life mortality, which was chiefly due to infections. This trend continued with the development of vaccines and then antibiotics. By the latter half of the twentieth century, there was little room for further reduction in early and mid-life mortality. The Pharmaceutical industry has immensely contributed to better living conditions today. Let’s travel back to see how this industry began. I hope reading about this is as much fun as it was researching for me. It must be interesting for you to check out this list of countries by life expectancy

The Early Years of the Pharma Industry

Knowing history doesn’t change the past , but it surely changes the future.

The Humble Beginnings of Blockbuster , Multi-Billion Dollar companies

The modern Pharmaceutical industry can be traced back to its origins with the Apothecaries and the Early Dye and Chemical Companies. The dictionary describes an Apothecary as a person who prepared and sold medicines and drugs. Sounds familiar to a pharmacist ain’t it? The early pharmaceutical companies in most parts of the world were traditional treatments that had passed through centuries of folk knowledge. Some of these knowledge bases like Unani and Ayurveda still exist and are produced in bulk quantities in an industrial setting.

An early Italian Apothecary in 17th Century , Courtesy Fisher Scientific Institute
An early Italian Apothecary in 17th Century , Courtesy Fisher Scientific Institute

The 17th Century is said to be the beginning of the Scientific Revolution and the 18th Century is the beginning of the Industrial revolution. It was only in the 19th Century that both the concepts came together to see the kind of pharma revolution that we see today. ie RND + Mass Production. Companies like Merck, began as a small apothecary shop in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1668, only beginning wholesale production of drugs in the 1840s. Likewise, Schering in Germany; Hoffmann-La Roche in Switzerland, Burroughs Wellcome in England, Etienne Poulenc in France, and Abbott, Smith Kline, Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, Squibb, and Upjohn in the U.S. all started as apothecaries and drug suppliers between the early 1830s and late 1890s. Other sets of companies who also have very well known names in the industry today began with the production of organic chemicals (especially dyestuffs) before moving into pharmaceuticals. These include Agfa, Bayer, and Hoechst in Germany; Ciba, Geigy, and Sandoz in Switzerland, Imperial Chemical Industries in England; and Pfizer in the U.S.

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.

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”
― Mary Shelly

Products of War

The kind of everyday products that you use today a large chunk of them can be traced back to the wars from Stainless steel ( can we imagine pharma without it?) , GPS Systems, Internet , 2 minute Noodles , Zips , tea bags , sanitary pads, blood banks, the list is endless. What does this has to do with pharma products? Turns out ” A LOT”.

Pfizer was founded in 1849 by two German immigrants in USA, initially as a fine chemicals business. Their business expanded rapidly during the American civil war as demand for painkillers and antiseptics rocketed.

A support commander named Colonel Eli Lilly was serving in the US  Army during the Civil War. A trained pharmaceutical chemist, Lilly was a prototype of the dynamic and multi-talented 19th-century American entrepreneur, who after his military career, tried his hand at farming and then set up a pharmaceutical business in 1876. He was a pioneer of new methods in the industry, being one of the first to focus on R&D as well as manufacturing.. Lilly’s notable achievements include being the first company to mass-produce the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, and insulin

Edward Robinson Squibb, who as a naval doctor during the Mexican-American war of 1846–1848 threw the drugs he was supplied with overboard due to their low quality. He set up a laboratory in 1858, like Pfizer supplying Union armies in the civil war, and laying the basis for today’s BMS.

With the discovery of Penicillin, an impact possibly unparalleled by any other in medicine.. The immense scale and sophistication of the penicillin development effort marked a new era for the way the pharmaceutical industry developed drugs. After Alexander Fleming’s discovery of the penicillium mould’s antibiotic properties in 1928, and Howard Florey and Ernst Chain’s further experimentation, a government-supported international collaboration including Merck, Pfizer and Squibb worked on mass producing the drug during World War II, saving thousands of soldiers’ lives and then the general population’s.

The wars encouraged a great deal of public private partnership between the government and the private players and many other drug categories were invented.

Dyeing Chemicals to Pharmaceuticals ? whats the link?

Paul Ehrlich in 1906 postulated following more than a decade of research, the concept that synthetic chemicals could selectively kill or immobilize parasites, bacteria, and other invasive disease-causing microbes would eventually drive a massive industrial research program that continues to the present.

Hence formerly a center of the trade for textiles and dyes, Swiss manufacturers gradually began to realize their dyestuffs had antiseptic and other properties and began to market them as pharmaceuticals, in contrast to the origin in pharmacies of other enterprises. For the companies, it was only a short step from staining cells to make them more visible under microscopes to dyeing cells to kill them. Chemists soon modified the raw dyestuffs and their by-products to make them more effective as medicines.

Switzerland’s lack of patent codes led to it being called a “pirate state” in the German Reichstag ( German Parliament). Sandoz, CIBA-Geigy, Roche, and the Basel hub of the pharmaceutical industry all have their beginnings in this rush .

Why History Makes so much Sense?

In the next post, we shall cover what superstar drugs catapulted the early movers to never seen before heights. Post the international history, a separate thread of content would be released on the History of pharma in India. Why is this history so important? because as an industry we can analyze our past to understand the future and design better heuristics for the future.

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