100 years medicines

Healing agents


Janssen Pharmaceutics produced a video explaining how drugs are discovered and developed.


The English physician James LeFanu came up with the following list of medicial breakthroughs that changed society in his book "The rise and fall of modern medicine".


  • 1941 Penicillin (bacterial infections)
  • 1949 Cortisone (sterile infections)
  • 1950 Streptomycin, smoking (epidemiology / trials)
  • 1952 Chlorpromazine (psychiatry)
  • 1955 Open-heart surgery
  • 1963 Kidney transplantation
  • 1964 Strokes (prevention)
  • 1971 Healing childhood leukemia
  • 1978 Test tube baby
  • 1984 Helicobacter (ulcers)


In nine of these 10 breakthroughs, medicines were essential.. And even open-heart surgery is not possible without anesthesia drugs. So, without exaggeration it can be stated that medicines have changed society dramatically. Bu science has changed as well, according to this summary of Nobel prizes for drug research:


  • Von Behring, diphtheria antitoxin (1901)
  • Fischer, lock-and-key (1902)
  • Koch, bacteriology (1905)
  • Ehrlich, salvarsan/syphilis (1908)
  • Banting/Macleod, insulin/diabetes (1923)
  • Wagner/Jauregg, malaria/fever (1928)
  • Windaus, vitamin D/rachitis (1928)
  • Eijkman, vitamin B1/beri-beri (1929)
  • Haworth, vitamin C (1937)
  • Domagk, prontosil rubrum/antibacterial (1939)
  • Fleming/Chain/Florey, penicillin/antibacterial (1945)
  • Kendall/Reichstein/Hench, cortisone/inflammation (1950)
  • Waksman, streptomycin/TB (1952)
  • Du Vigneaud, oxytocin/childbirth, vasopressin/diuresis (1955)
  • Bovet, tubocurarine/nervous system, sulfanilamide/antibacterial, mepyramine/antihistaminic (1957)
  • Sanger, insulin structure (1958)
  • Woodward, quinine/malaria, estrone/conception (1965)
  • Huggins, estrogen/prostate cancer (1966)
  • Edelman/Porter, antibodies (1972)
  • Bergstrom/Samuelsson/Vane, prostaglandins/inflammation (1982)
  • Jerne/Kohler/Millstein, antibody production (1984)
  • Hitchings, thioguanine/cancer, 6-mercaptopurine/cancer (1988)
  • Elion, azathioprine/immunosuppression, pyrimethamine/malaria (1988)
  • Black, propranolol/hypertension, cimetidine/heartburn (1988)
  • Marshall, H. pylori/heartburn (2005)
  • Fire/Mello, RNAi (2006)
  • Hausen, HPV vaccine (2008)
  • Lefkowitz, Kobilka, GPCRs/hypertension (2012)
  • Gurdon/Yamanaka, iPSC (2012)
  • Campbell/Omura, ivermectin/antiparasitic (2015)
  • Tu, artemisinin/malaria (2015)
  • Arnold/Smith/Winter, directed evolution/phage display (2018)
  • Allison/Honjo, immuuntherapie (2018)
  • Alter/Houghton/Rice, hepatitis C virus (2020)
  • Charpentier/Doudna, metode voor gene editing (2020)


More information on these Nobel prizes can be found here.


More information?
This Ted talk from Francis Collins, director of the NIH, gives a good overview.


This article briefly described the history of pharmacology in the Netherlands.


Interesting books about the history of medicine and medicines:



  • Galileo’s finger – the ten great ideas of science by Peter Atkins
  • Four laws that drive the universe by Peter Atkins
  • Eureka’s and euphorias – the Oxford book of scientific anecdotes by Walter Gratzer
  • The information - a history, a theory, a flood by James Gleick



  • Stories of the invisible – a guided tour of molecules by Philip Ball
  • Napoleon's buttons - how 17 molecules changed history by Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson
  • Molecules that changed the world - a brief history of the art and science of synthesis and Its impact on society by K. C. Nicolaou, Tamsyn Montagnon



  • I wish I’d made you angry earlier by Max Perutz
  • The double helix by James Watson
  • Avoid boring people by James Watson



  • Genome by Matt Ridley
  • The rational optimist by Matt Ridley
  • The evolution of everything by Matt Ridley



  • The compatibility gene – how our bodies fight disease, attract others, and define ourselves by Daniel Davies
  • A beautiful cure - harnessing your body’s natural defences by Daniel Davies


History of Medicine

  • Medical firsts – from Hippocrates to the human genome by Robert Adler
  • The rise and fall of modern medicine - Revised Edition by James Le Fanu
  • Why we get sick – the new science of Darwinian mediine by Randolph Nesse and George Williams
  • A brief history of disease, science and medicine by Michael Kennedy


Infectious disease

  • Leven met parasieten by Frans Rochette
  • Deadly companions – how microbes shaped our history by Dorothy Crawford
  • The invisible enemy – a natural history of viruses by Dorothy Crawford
  • The miraculous fever-tree - malaria, medicine and the cure that changed the world by Fiammetta Rocco
  • The fever trail - the hunt for the cure for malaria by Mark Honigsbaum
  • Living with germs in sickness and in health by John Playfair



  • The emperor of all maladies – a biography of cancer by Siddharta Mukherjee
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


History of drugs

  • The quest of tomorrow’s medicines by Jurgen Drews
  • The drug book - from arsenic to Xanax, 250 milestones in the history of drugs by Michael C. Gerald
  • Molecules that changed the world by K.C. Nicolaou and T. Montagnon
  • Molecules and medicine by E. J. Corey, László Kürti, Barbara Czakó
  • Laughing gas, Viagra and Lipitor – the human stories behind the drugs we use by Jie Jack Li


Pharma industry

  • The billion dollar molecule – one company’s quest for the perfect drug by Barry Werth
  • The antidote - inside the world of new pharma by Barry Werth
  • Genentech - the beginnings of biotech by Sally Smith Hughes
  • The $800 million pill - the truth behind the cost of new drugs by Merrill Goozner