ICI Exhibition Booklet - Flipbook - Page 15
Pharmaceuticals: from dyes to drugs 1942-1957
‘We’re not going to become another company selling Glauber salts – we’re going to live and
profit by our own discoveries’
– C J T Cronshaw, Pharmaceuticals Research Director
Pharmaceuticals, an area with close affinity to the synthesis of dyestuffs, began at the Blackley site. This heavily polluted
atmosphere and the consequent viral infections made it difficult to keep lab animals alive long enough to perform tests.
Active work began in 1936 with powerful support from influential academics, several of whom were angry Britain seemed
to be leaving drug research entirely to the Germans and Swiss.
An initial ‘grant’ of £15,000 a year for five years was authorised in an ICI board meeting on 11
June 1936 for ‘research by the Dyestuffs Group in regard to synthetic organic pharmaceuticals’.
Special emphasis was placed on original research to discover new remedies and the making
of ‘certain pharmaceuticals products already imported into this country from abroad’. Seven
young doctorate chemists were seconded from different sections, including Dr Frank Rose
and Dr William Boon, to experiment with pharmaceutical lines of work. All were aware the
project would end if they did not make significant advances. ICI Pharmaceuticals, set up as a
company in 1942, remained largely dependent on Dyestuffs research for the next 13 years.
Blackley Works 1972, Courtesy of Manchester Archives and Local Studies, Central Library, www.images.manchester.gov.uk
Paludrine & Hibitane
In 1938, antimalarial drugs were assigned to ICI, as part of a Government initiative to produce drugs
domestically in anticipation of reduced war time supplies. By chance, the ICI team (including Dr Frank
Rose and Dr Frank Curd) learned that soldiers in Africa who had caught malaria and, simultaneously,
a streptococcyl infection, showed an improvement in their malarial condition when treated with
sulpha drugs, the standard treatment for infection. Rose and Curd started work on potential antimalaria drugs based on this fact. Rose himself was an azo chemist and had previously synthesised one
of the sulpha drugs in use, sulphadimidine. Out of this work came Paludrine, still in use today as an
Hibitane was the result of further work by Rose and colleagues, using the same type of azo
chemistry as Paludrine. First designed as an antiviral, it was subsequently used widely in hospitals
as an antiseptic and ranked in ICI’s top five selling pharmaceuticals.
Penicillin – a vital role in
A team headed by Dr William Boon was set
up within the Dyestuffs Division in 1942 to
produce the first medically usable quantities
of penicillin. While looking for a pure
chemical pathway, the team realised how
effective penicillin was for treating wounds,
and ICI switched to large scale production
by fermentation. Total synthesis, although
eventually achieved outside ICI, did not
prove to be economical. This is still true
Anaesthetics – Halothane, a bridge between need and science
The discovery of the inhalant anaesthetic halothane in the early 1950s by ICI chemist Dr Charles Suckling combined a desire to make use
of the existing fluorine chemistry knowledge and technology with a theoretical concept of narcosis. It was developed by a team contributing
expertise from chemistry, physics, pharmacology, and anaesthesiology.
Suckling and ICI pharmacologist James Raventos were given an innovative initial brief to define their target, satisfying four people:
Patient: to be rendered unconscious easily and pleasantly and to recover quickly, with no adverse effects
Surgeon: to have a non-explosive gas that in no way restricted surgical work
Anaesthetist: needed a potent compound with a good safety margin, with moment-by-moment control over the level of
unconsciousness and produce no functional or organic damage
Manufacturer: ideally needed a chemical which could be simply and inexpensively made and was easy to purify, transport, and store.
Halothane was prepared in January 1953, based on earlier work that ICI Research Director James Ferguson had conducted on fluoro-organic
compounds. Clinical trials were started three years later by Dr Michael Johnston, who quickly recognised its potential. Patients came around
quickly, suffering much less post-operative discomfort and with circulation unaffected. However, halothane presented a challenge to equipment
makers, as it required a new generation of vaporisers more precise than those used to administer older anaesthetics and for new materials that
would not be affected by prolonged exposure to the new compound. Manufacturers responded quickly to this issue, aided by the close attention
paid by ICI to these technical problems. Today, halothane is still widely used in developing countries and in veterinary surgery because of its lower
‘We often fail because companies do not recognise that the innovation has to satisfy requirements at every stage of its life’
- Dr Charles Suckling
The inventor of Penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, was the first recipient of
the SCI Lister Medal in 1922. This prestigious award is for eminent scientists
working at the interface of chemistry and medicine.
It was awarded in June of this year to Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical
Officer for England, for her work on antimicrobial resistance.