Pharmaceutical Specialities in the 19th Century: Status and Foundations for Pharmaceutical Innovation

By Nicolas Sueur

In France, the 19th century saw the rise in pharmaceutical specialities: Aubergier’s opium syrup, Sinapisme Rigollot (a decongestant), Adrian’s vacuum extracts, etc. Specialists were in most cases pharmacists and they presented their creations as being innovations, the products of lengthy laboratory research. Yet in reality, these products were therapies going back to Antiquity, with slight innovations in terms of dosage and composition. However, they responded to growing demand from 19th century medicine, which continued to appreciate these ancient methods.Pharmaceutical inventions were initially based on perfecting technical processes that enabled specialities to be produced in large quantities. This change in scale resulted in the creation of companies, bringing in external capital. Inventions of new machines coincided with, and sometimes even preceded, pharmaceutical inventions, although production was still a largely manual process. The motives for developing these new products were more commercial than therapeutic, with fierce competition among manufacturers for control of these specialities.

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