Saturday, January 14, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt three)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

In 1949, an unusual advertisement started to appear in a number of medical journals. “Terra bona,” it said, in bold brown letters against a green backdrop. It wasn’t clear what “Terra bona” meant, exactly—or, for that matter, if there was any specific product the advertisement was supposed to be selling. “The great earth has given man more than bread alone,” a caption read, noting that new antibiotics discovered in the soil had succeeded in extending human life. “In the isolation, screening and production of such vital agents, a notable role has been played by…Pfizer.”

For nearly a century, the Brooklyn firm Chas. Pfizer & Company had been a modest supplier of chemicals. Until World War II, outfits like Pfizer sold chemicals in bulk, without brand names, whether to other companies or to pharmacists (who would mix the chemicals themselves). Then, in the early 1940s, the introduction of penicillin ushered in a new era of antibiotics—powerful medications that can stop infections caused by bacteria. When the war broke out, the U.S. military needed great quantities of penicillin to administer to the troops, and companies like Pfizer were enlisted to produce the drug. By the time the war ended, the business model of these chemical companies had forever changed: now they were mass-producing not just chemicals but finished drugs, which were ready for sale. Penicillin was a revolutionary medicine, but it wasn’t patented, which meant that anyone could produce it. Because no company held a monopoly, it remained cheap and, thus, not particularly lucrative. So Pfizer, emboldened, began to hunt for other remedies that it could patent and sell at a higher price.

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