Steroid medicine innovation at Upjohn named National Historic Chemical Landmark

17 May 2019
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2019 — Innovations at The Upjohn Company that laid the groundwork for many modern steroid medicines are being honored as the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’) newest National Historic Chemical Landmark. The ceremony recognizing the designation is being held at 11 a.m. Eastern time today at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the company was founded in 1886. Other events associated with the designation include a scientific symposium, dinner and reception.
"For many of us, life would be unimaginable without medicines that contain steroids,” says ACS Immediate Past President Peter K. Dorhout, Ph.D. “They include treatments for mosquito bites, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, skin conditions and even cancer. Many of these modern drug therapies would not be available today without the pioneering research and development that occurred at Upjohn over an incredible 60-year period starting in 1930. The medicinal chemistry innovations, microbial and chemical transformation discoveries, and manufacturing processes developed by Upjohn for its steroid medicine program transformed not only the pharmaceutical industry but also the entire field of synthetic organic chemistry.”
“Numerous pharmaceutical companies initiated industrial efforts to scale-up the production of cortisone and hydrocortisone in late 1949,” says Donald R. Parfet, retired Upjohn officer and great-grandson of company founder William E. Upjohn. “Among the companies in the race was The Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, where knowledge of adrenal cortex extracts was considerable. By the mid-1950s the company had organized multiple teams to determine how best to optimize the synthesis of hydrocortisone for human clinical use. This effort led to Upjohn’s unsurpassed development and commercial production of many other corticosteroids and related compounds through a continuous string of chemical and microbiological discoveries by Kalamazoo scientists.”

In 1995, Upjohn merged with Pharmacia AB to form Pharmacia & Upjohn. In 2000, Pharmacia & Upjohn merged with Monsanto’s pharmaceutical operations, creating Pharmacia Inc. Pfizer acquired Pharmacia in 2003 and has maintained the large Kalamazoo manufacturing site.

ACS established the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal events in the history of chemistry and to increase awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society. Past landmarks include the discovery and production of penicillin, the invention of synthetic plastics and the works of such notable scientific figures as educator George Washington Carver and environmentalist Rachel Carson. For more information, visit


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