Headache. A word that strikes fear in the head of many people. Now, imagine if we didn’t have a simple cure for it. That’s how the world would be if it wasn’t for Felix Hoffmann.
Felix Hoffmann was born in January 1868 in Ludwigsburg- a small industrial town near Munich, Germany. He completed his education in the university of Munich obtaining a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His teacher, Nobel Prize winning scientist Adolf Von Baeyer was so impressed by him that he convinced him to join the newly started German pharmaceutical company Bayer as a research scientist.
Willow bark is known for its pain relieving abilities and chemists at Bayer had managed to isolate the chemical-Salicylic acid from the bark which was responsible for its pain relieving properties. However, most people found Salicylic acid tablets very bitter and inconsumable. It also caused inflammation in the intestinal tract making it an unpopular drug.
Felix Hoffmann spent most of his time in Bayer Labs combining acetyl groups with popularly used medicines hoping to decrease their toxicity. His father often complained about the problems with Salicylic acid and Felix attempted adding acetyl acid to salicylic acid and thus produced acetyl-salicylic acid. The head of Bayer’s pharmaceutical research Heinrich Dresser tested the new formula on himself and was immediately convinced of its’ uses. Soon, tests on animals and patients in hospitals followed and soon Bayer realized they had a blockbuster money spinning drug on their hands.
Bayer struggled to obtain patents for it as salicylic acid had already been discovered but they finally managed to patent it in the USA. They named it Aspirin: A from Acetyl and Spirin from the name of the plant from which salicylic acid was extracted. The drug became immensely popular and soon almost all other pain relieving tablets became obsolete compared to it.
Its still in use now and the name Aspirin is almost synonymous with headache relief. The drug was Bayer’s first major product and it catapulted Bayer into world-wide fame as it aggressively marketed it. Bayer went on to become so rich that it bought a football club and became a giant in the pharmaceutical industry. Its football club- Bayer Leverkusen is well known around the world and is now one of Gemany’s leading clubs having produced many iconic players like Micheal Ballack.
Felix Hoffmann, continued his research in Bayer and went started his research on cough suppressing medicines. He went back to his formula of adding acetyl acid to drugs, this time adding it to morphine with the aim of producing codeine. The resultant drug was found be very effective and was named Heroin. Heroin also became an extremely popular drug before other scientists discovered its extremely addictive properties and it was subsequently banned all over the world.
Despite being immensely popular, Hoffmann preferred a quiet lifestyle and lived his life after retirement in Switzerland, out of the public eye. He passed away in 1946 in Switzerland. He never married and had no children.