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For Drugs, Deep Roots
This article by Phyllis Maguire was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on January 13, 1999. All rights reserved.
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s research headquarters on Route
206 in Lawrenceville is a crucible of research efforts aimed at developing
drugs of the future. But within that modernistic complex lies a single
small room and some basement archives dedicated to preserving the
The Pharmaceutical Group Museum, its circular path flanked by display
cases filled with company artifacts, chronicles a corporate genealogy
of mergers and acquisitions and documents the evolution of drug manufacturing
and marketing. It takes only 40 paces to pass through the museum,
but it contains a panorama of a century and a half, when medicine
went from scilla syrup to ACE inhibitors.
Opening in the large adjacent gallery this week is a complementary
traveling history of science exhibition, "Marie Curie and the
Centenary of the Discovery of Radioactivity." Curated by Lynn
Gamwell, the exhibition of objects, books, manuscripts, and photographs
commemorates the centenary of Marie Sklodowska Curie’s work on radioactivity.
Curie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, Pierre
Curie, and Henri Becquerel, who made the initial discovery in 1896;
then won the Nobel in chemistry in 1911 for her subsequent discovery
of the elements polonium and radium. The exhibition originated at
the New York Academy of Sciences with objects on loan from that institution
and from the Mutter Museum of Medicine in Philadelphia, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and the Society in Tribute to Marie Sklodowska
Curie in Warsaw, Poland.
The exhibition documents a pivotal chapter in the history of modern
science and medicine, and also celebrates the life of a researcher
who continues to inspire women in science. Opening reception is Sunday,
January 17, from 3 to 5 p.m. The show runs to February 21.
Maintaining Bristol-Myers Squibb’s permanent archives,
and hence tracking today’s history of science in the making, are Ben
McDowell and Mildred Sheehan, two retired chemists. McDowell is a
self-described "Squibb man," his employment predating the
Bristol-Myers’ merger by more than four decades. He received his doctorate
from Ohio State University in 1944, the same year he began working
at the Squibb Institute for Medical Research in New Brunswick; Sheehan
was hired there in 1938. Both were part of the team that collaborated
on the mass production of penicillin, and the elegant Sheehan and
spry McDowell are modest about their participation. "I’m pleased,"
says McDowell, "with the contributions I’ve made."
The corporate archives are testimony to the historical value of staying
put. The company founded by Edward Squibb remained in Brooklyn for
over a century, accumulating material. Here is his mahogany rolltop
desk, his desk clock, and medical books. Here are drawers of print
ads, and notebooks filled with lab reports, while in the safe are
several volumes of Squibb’s journals, half of the dozen ledgers he
filled over decades. And here in a file cabinet are Squibb products,
many packaged before 1910 when the company stocked pharmacies with
spices as well as pharmaceuticals. Several of the antique packages
have been placed in the upstairs museum display cases.
At the museum entrance are photographs of four men whose surnames
have become household words: William Bristol, John Myers, Edward Squibb,
M.D., and Edward Mead Johnson. Squibb was the first in business. Raised
a Quaker in Philadelphia, he graduated from Jefferson Medical College
in 1845 when bleeding techniques with leeches were still taught. His
decision to become a Navy physician got him read out of Quaker meeting
— and began his life-long campaign against adulterated drugs.
As he ministered to crews’ venereal diseases and epidemics, he was
disgusted by the worms in the ship’s store of rhubarb, the sand in
the bicarbonate of soda.
Back on land, he was struck by variations in a new product, sulfuric
ether, and he perfected a method for distilling ether with steam.
"When Dr. Squibb had learned how to make pure ether of uniform
strength, he turned his attention to chloroform," wrote his biographer,
Lawrence G. Blochman. "And when he learned how to make chloroform,
he began to think of making money." Resigning his naval commission,
Squibb built a laboratory in Brooklyn Heights in 1858 which was gutted
by fire within a month, a bottle of ether — a green glass one
is displayed — breaking near a lit candle. Squibb saved his journals,
and though his hands were badly scarred and his eyelids seared away,
he rebuilt the lab.
Orders were slow before the Civil War but brisk once war got underway.
Some of Squibb’s ether made its confiscated way south to relieve Confederates.
He outfitted several hundred oak and mahogany medicine chests for
the Union Army, one of which is on display. A chart inside the lid
identifies over 50 vials of contained compounds and extracts: quinine
and morphine, camphor and opium. A top tray holds glass syringes and
oiled silk, a mortar for grinding powders, a calibrated pill tile
for measuring powder into pills.
After the Civil War, Squibb worked extensively on liquid opium and
designed an ether bag — here is one in linen — to protect
patients from being over-anesthetized. He stayed active in medical
and pharmaceutical societies; he refused to patent his inventions,
and he was author of a food and drug act that became law in New York
and New Jersey.
Here is Squibb’s 1874 inventory and a staff portrait
of 40 employees. The 1880s brought prosperity and international orders,
with Squibb disdaining the use of ready-made pills and refusing to
hire salespeople. He died in 1900, six years before the Food and Drug
Act he had crusaded for became federal law. Although his two sons
remained executives, they needed money to expand and in 1905, E. R.
Squibb & Sons was sold.
Two other faces at the museum entrance began their professional lives
together in 1887. William Bristol and John Myers were fraternity brothers
at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Bristol needed a trade,
Myers wanted an investment, and together they sank $5,000 of Myers’s
money in the Clinton Pharmaceutical Company, a failing manufacturing
firm headquartered in a second-story loft. Since neither knew anything
about pharmacology or manufacturing, they joined forces with another
pharmaceutical that contributed a bank account ($240), a pill-making
machine, and a salesman.
"Horse and buggy" doctors rolled pills and mixed elixirs at
patients’ bedsides; where doctors were unavailable, people relied
on home remedies. Clinton Pharmaceutical became the first company
to send its salesman to sell directly to doctors, traveling the countryside
and convincing physicians to try its purgatives, digestive tablets,
and Clinton Cascara Active, a laxative with 20 percent alcohol.
A copy of an 1889 weekly payroll shows a total of $32 being disbursed
among nine employees. The company moved to Syracuse for better railroads
and then to Brooklyn. When Myers died in 1899 at age 36, what had
been Bristol, Myers Company gained a hyphen, became a corporation,
and turned its first profit. By the beginning of this century, pharmacists
were replacing dispensing physicians, and the Bristol-Myers salesforce
was calling on druggists to promote its "specialty" or over-the-counter
products, as well as pharmaceuticals.
Their first speciality success was Ipana Tooth Paste; the second was
Sal Hepatica, a "poor man’s spa" of mineral salts. William
Bristol’s oldest son Henry, named general manager in 1915, came back
from the First World War convinced that the future belonged to specialty
items. Bristol-Myers jettisoned prescription drug production to focus
exclusively on toiletries, antiseptics, cold creams, and cough syrups,
advertising directly to consumers in women’s magazines and through
the new medium of radio.
The slogan "Ipana for the Smile of Beauty; Sal Hepatica for the
Smile of Health" was broadcast along with the music of the Ipana
Troubadours. An exquisitely-tinted print ad for Mum deodorant —
"Mum is the Word!" — features two columns of print and
a riot of italics: "Even more than beauty, DAINTINESS is the very
essence of feminine charm. Just a touch of Mum to the underarm and
elsewhere ANTICIPATES and PREVENTS all body odor." Coupons —
here in a stack called "certificates" — made products
even more affordable. In 1924, Bristol-Myers’ gross profits topped
$1 million and by 1929, the company was being publicly traded.
Mead Johnson & Company, founded by Edward Mead Johnson, began as a
"Manufacturing Chemist" in Jersey City in 1905. The company
put itself on the corporate map in 1911 with the introduction of Dextri-Maltose,
an infant malt sugar supplement, and built a new factory in Evansville,
Indiana in 1915. A photograph shows the sprawling factory, chimneys
smoking, set in fields next to grazing cattle.
"The Physician’s Policy is Mead’s Policy" reads a mounted
plaque. "For years, we have thrown all our resources into keeping
infant feeding where it belongs — in the hands of the medical
profession." That exclusivity was staunchly protected: "From
the beginning, Mead Johnson & Company have cooperated only with physicians,
never advertising to the public, never disclosing descriptive literature
with packages, never printing directions on packages, nor exploiting
the medical profession in any way."
But the merits of "never advertising to the public" were forgotten
by the time Mead Johnson standardized cod liver oil production in
1924 and introduced Pablum, the first instant baby cereal, in 1933.
One print ad shows a baby’s crying face with the banner, "I Don’t
Like Spinach!"; another boasts that Paplum is "richer than
any of these vegetables in Iron and Calcium," with beautifully
colored illustrations of outmoded tomatoes and carrots. Americans
had embraced processed and enriched foods, and Mead Johnson remained
the leader in infant formula, cereal, and vitamins.
Squibb bought land in New Brunswick to expand ether production, building
the Squibb Biological Laboratories there in 1915. Its over-the-counter
line, the Home Necessities Group, included Squibb Dental Cream, Castor
Oil, Epsom Salts, and Chocolate Covered Anemia Pills. Squibb never
stopped producing pharmaceuticals, and here is a leather case prepared
for Theodore Roosevelt’s 1909 African expedition, with vials of quinine
and digitalis, belladonna and calomel. "Squibb Week" was an
annual promotion, and prints ads for the "House of Squibb"
remind consumers that integrity was Squibb’s "Priceless Ingredient."
"Pharmaceutical research then addressed such illnesses as anemia,
rickets, vitamin deficiencies, and digestive problems," reads
one sign, and McDowell elaborates: "From the late 1800s, vaccines
were the front line of medical research. Squibb got into the vaccine
business around 1910 — the Iditerod dog race originally carried
Squibb diphtheria vaccine throughout Alaska — and remained heavily
in the field until the early ’50s." Photographs show the New Brunswick
labs being expanded to become the Squibb Institute for Medical Research
in 1938. "It was envisioned as an academic institution where scientists
could search for answers, not profits," says McDowell. "But
that changed with the war."
British scientist Alexander Fleming had discovered the antibacterial
activity of penicillin in 1928. With war declared, the federal government
— trying to avert the staggering death rate suffered from infection
during World War I — supported the efforts of Squibb and other
concerns to mass produce the antibiotic.
One of those concerns was Bristol-Myers. Its acquisition in the early
’40s of Cheplin Laboratories in Syracuse, which produced acidophilus
milk through fermentation, paved the way for Bristol-Myers to re-enter
the drug market; a photograph of the facility shows shelves filled
with containers of fermenting penicillin. With the advent of antibiotics,
Henry Bristol pushed for commercializing pharmaceuticals as vigorously
as he had vetoed them three decades before, and Bristol-Myers eventually
became one of the world’s largest antibiotic producers. Squibb was
also a major player, developing "pentids," a tablet penicillin
that incorporated the physician designation for three times a day
— "tid" — in its name.
"Instead of isolating drugs from plants or by use of animals to
produce vaccines, chemistry started to play a more important medical
role," McDowell says of the remarkable acceleration of medical
research after the war. "Drugs began to be synthesized in the
laboratory and manufactured." Whereas the 1940s had seen the mass
production of penicillin, the ’50s saw its synthesis, with research
into microbes as a source for antibiotics and the chemical creation
of drug compounds. The Institute for Medical Research shared an Albert
D. Lasker Award in 1955 — the trophy is on display — with
Hoffman-LaRoche for their discovery of Nydrazid, a breakthrough drug
for the treatment of tuberculosis. In the early ’60s, Squibb chemists
Oskar Wintersteiner and Josef Fried greatly enhanced the activity
of the cortisone molecule by combining it with fluorine; the product
they developed, Kenalog, was the first fluorinated corticosteroid.
Bristol-Myers in the meantime was busy acquiring companies. Clairol
was purchased in 1959, and several pharmaceuticals followed in the
1960s: Drackett; Zimmer; Westwood, with its Alpha-Keri line; its parent,
Foster-Milburn, maker of Doan’s Pills — and Mead Johnson. The
250 millionth can of Dextri-Maltose, produced in 1958, is on display;
Mead Johnson’s introduction of Enfamil a few years later made Dextri-Maltose
obsolete. Here is a pink box of Metrecal packets, available in Dutch
chocolate and eggnog, the first adult weight loss supplement. When
Mead Johnson became part of Bristol-Myers in 1967, it continued to
market vitamins and nutritional supplements, while its anticancer
drugs led to a full line of chemotherapy treatments.
Bristol-Myers and Squibb pursued complementary research during the
1970s: Bristol-Myers focused on antibiotics and dermatological, oncological,
and central nervous systems drugs, while Squibb researchers developed
medications for heart disease, infections, and — what would become
a growing market — mental disorders. Both companies issued brands
of cephalosporins, a new generation of antibiotics, while Squibb marketed
Azactam, one of the new monobactum family of antibiotics developed
from microbes found in the soil of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.
In the 1970s, Squibb researchers synthesized protein compounds in
snake venom and patented capoten, an ACE inhibitor and breakthrough
treatment for hypertension — and a cornerstone of Squibb’s success
for the next 20 years. Displays document emerging fields of medicine:
technetium 99M generators, in white plastic, for nuclear medicine,
and Isovue 300, an agent for diagnostic imaging.
A print ad reading "Take Two" shows two pills, one inscribed
"Bristol-Myers" and the other "Squibb." The merger
took place in October, 1989, and the last museum case is filled with
joint products: blue boxes of Paraplatin, for recurrent ovarian cancer;
Videx and Zerit, for advanced H.I.V.; Manopril for hypertension; the
current anti-cholesterol blockbuster, Pravachol; glucophage for type
II diabetes; VePesid, an anticancer drug, and Servone, a new antidepressant.
The next generation of pharmaceuticals may arise from the field of
genomics, the identification and chemical manipulation of genes; those
products, yet to be developed, will take their place in the museum
A company that once had nine employees now has 52,000 worldwide, with
8,000 in New Jersey alone. The outfit that once marketed drugs directly
to physicians now advertises pharmaceuticals directly to the public.
With five major research sites in the United States and Europe linked
by smaller sites worldwide, and 4,000 scientific and administrative
personnel in its Pharmaceutical Research Institute; a yearly research
and development budget well over $1 billion, and $5.69 billion last
year in American drug sales, making it the nation’s leading seller
— the company’s museum is small, but the history it documents
is large indeed.
— Phyllis B. Maguire
and the Centenary of the Discovery of Radioactivity , Bristol-Myers
Squibb, Route 206 and Province Line Road, 609-252-6275. Opening
reception for an exhibition commemorating the centenary of Marie Curie’s
discovery of radioactivity. Free. Sunday, January 17, 3 to 5 p.m.
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