Felix Hoffmann, Chemist

#OTD, January 21, 1868 the German chemist Felix Hoffmann (no relation) was born in Ludwigsburg. He was involved in two ground breaking drug developments whilst working at Bayer AG.

In 1896 he synthesized diacetylmorphine out of morphine and acetic anhydride. He was motivated to produce a highly effective painkiller as he witnessed his father’s painful rheumatism. The drug was so effective, its users felt “heroic” which is why it was marketed under the brand name Heroin. Bayer realised that there were some serious side effects and stopped producing Heroin in 1913. A year late the use of the drug was banned without prescription.

In 1897 Hoffmann worked on producing comparatively pure acetylsalicylic acid. The product was licensed and distributed by Bayer AG under the brand name Aspirin.

Aspirin became a huge money spinner for Bayer. The US was one of its largest markets. Upon the US entry into WWI in 1917, Bayer’s assets, including a plant producing Aspirin, trademarks and know-how was seized and sold to Sterling Inc. Sterling Inc. would own the Aspirin trademark in the US until 1994 when Bayer bought it back for $1bn.

The role of Hoffmann in the development of Aspirin was later disputed. Walter Sneader, a professor at the University of Strathclyde claimed that the innovation was the work of Arthur Eichengrün, a colleague of Hoffmann. Sneader claimed that Eichengrün had designed the process and left the execution to Hoffmann “who did not really know what he was doing”. Eichengrün was supposedly written out of history due to his Jewish faith. Bayer did vigorously deny this claim referencing detailed documentation in his laboratories. Specifically, they state that Aspirin was ascribed to Hoffmann in 1896 and not in 1934. Eichengrün left Bayer in 1908 and claimed invention of several products but not of Aspirin.

For the Bayer press release: http://pressearchiv-kubitschek.www.de/…/bayer_110999.html

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