‘Intelligent, Fast, Bactericidal’

Speaker: Prof Christoph Gradmann # University of Oslo

24th Mar 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


In this paper I will analyse how research on antibiotics resistance can become a dynamic force in the development of new antibiotics.
Resistances, while being a problem for physicians, in fact, offer enchanting perspectives for those who research and develop new medicines. They impose limits on the usage of older medicines and simultaneously modify pathologies in a way that opens markets for new therapeutic substances. Mapping the spread of resistant strains can thus be part of developing and marketing new antibiotics.

My chosen example to tell a story of that sort is the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. Before WWII, while being part of the IG Farben, Bayer had pioneered the development of anti-infective chemotherapies, sulpha drugs in particular, but had missed the boat when it came to fungal antibiotics. In combination with the effects of WWII, Bayer’s world market presence, which had been considerable prior to the war, had dropped like a stone. The company was totally absent from developing first generation antibiotics like penicillin or streptomycin.

In this situation the company decided on a development strategy that tried to capitalise on the problems created by the use of first generation antibiotics. Part and parcel of this strategy was monitoring of what was called ‘the structural change of infectious disease’. This term would cover both pathologies resulting from resistances, hospital infections and even life style pathologies such as the athletes foot. In my presentation I will follow drug development and marketing at Bayer from 1944 to about 1980.


Speaker Biography

Prof Christoph Gradmann is based in the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Oslo. His research mainly focuses on the history of infectious disease from the 19th Century to the present day, and his recent work has investigated diseases which seemed to be returning at the end of the 20th Century. He has worked historiographic issues and in particular on the theory and history of biographies as a genre of historical text; he has published papers and written a book about biographies in interwar Germany. He is editor of the NTM Journal for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and a member of the Wellcome Trust's Expert Review Group for Medical Humanties.


This is the final seminar in this year's programme, and it will be followed by a drinks reception.