Innovations with medicines – 12 drugs that changed the world

 In Mental Health, Pharmacy Information

Innovations with medicines have been hugely important over the past few centuries. It’s not so long ago that people were dying from mundane injuries such as splinters. Thankfully dedicated medical professionals have made major advancements in medicines during the past two centuries, meaning you no longer have to worry about small scratches and very treatable conditions, which could have killed you before.

Without past medical breakthroughs such as insulin, millions of people wouldn’t be here today, and there are also continual important discoveries being made now as we speak. Therefore, it should give us hope that conditions such as cancer can be cured in the future.

12 drugs that changed the world

With this in mind, we thought we would have a look at 12 drugs that changed the world and have had a huge impact on our health and the healthcare community as a whole.

Drugs that changed the world - Largactil

Largactil (Chlorpromazine)

Chlorpromazine revolutionised the treatment of schizophrenia. It was synthesised in the Rhône-Poulenc laboratories and first used successfully to calm down a severely agitated patient in Paris in 1952. This success thrust Chlorpromazine into the limelight. Within a year it was available on prescription as Largactil.

Prior to its launch, patients were often hospitalised in asylums for life. Within a decade, the number of patients in American mental health institutions had dropped by nearly 20%. This trend continued, allowing more people to live in the community.



Drugs that changed the world - oramorph

Oramorph or MST (Morphine)

Morphine is one of the most potent pain relief drugs and is used across the world. Due to widespread opium addiction in the 18th and 19th centuries, a less addictive analgesic was sought. In 1816, Friedrich Serterner isolated a compound from crude opium with ten times the pain relief. He named this ‘morphine’ after Morpheus, the Greek God of dreams.

By the 1820s, morphine was in production and marketed as a non-addictive cure for both alcohol and opium addiction. However, we now know it is actually highly addictive.



Drugs that changed the world - inderalInderal (Propranolol)

Propranolol was first synthesised by Sir James Black in 1962, building on Raymond Ahlquist’s landmark 1948 work on the subdivision of adrenergic receptors into two main types, known as alpha and beta. Propranolol is a beta blocker which reduces blood pressure. It treats arrhythmia angina and many other conditions.

The discovery of Propranolol was such an important advancement in medicine that it led to Black receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988.




Drugs that changed the world - RimifonRimifon (Isoniazid)

Isoniazid was discovered in 1951 by three different pharmaceutical companies, leading to a cure for tuberculosis (TB). Sanatoriums that were used to isolate TB patients shut their doors, leading to isoniazid’s reputation as the wonder drug in the war against TB.

Isoniazid was easier to administer that its predecessors and had fewer side effects. However, one side effect of Isoniazid was its mood elevating effect, becoming the first drug to show antidepressant activity. This led to the biological basis for treating depression.



Drugs that changed the world - prozac

Prozac – (Fluoxetine)

Fluoxetine was the first Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) and paved the way for a new age in the treatment of depression. It creates an antidepressant effect that is used to treat a major depression Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other affective disorders.

The compound fluoxetine was discovered through a collaboration between Bryan Molloy, David Wong and Robert Rathbun in the 1970s. This set Eli Lilly on their way to the development of the well-known brand, Prozac, which entered clinical use in 1986.



Drugs that changed the world - EpilimEpilim (Sodium Valproate)

Valproic acid was first synthesised in 1882 but had no known clinical use until its anticonvulsant activity was serendipitously discovered by Pierre Eymard in 1961. Tests for antiepileptic activity on a number of compounds, using valproic acid as a solvent, all showed signed of success. This extraordinary result led to the discovery that valproic acid had anticonvulsant effects.

Sodium valproate was first marketed to treat epilepsy in France in 1967 and approved in the UK in 1974. It is also used as a mood stabiliser.



Drugs that changed the world - VeronalVeronal (barbital)

Barbituric acid was discovered in 1864 by Adolf Von Baeyer by merging malonic acid and urea. The derivative of the name is debated, however, it is widely accepted to be named after St Barbara, the patron saint of artillerists.

Barbiturates are all derived from barbituric acid and have various uses, including as hypnotics, sedatives and anticonvulsants. The first barbiturate to be clinically used was barbital in 1903. Due to their addictive properties, barbiturates have largely been surpassed by newer alternatives, such as benzodiazepines.



Drugs that changed the world - libriumLibrium (Chlordiazepoxide)

Chlordiazepoxide was first discovered in 1957 by Leo Sternbach at Hoffman La-Roche, as an alternative to meprobamate and phenothiazines. There was a great need for a drug with mid-range potency to treat anxiety as, despite their success, meprobamate was often too weak and phenothiazines often resulted in too many side-effects

Chlordiazepoxide became known as Librium. It was first marketed in 1960 as an anxiolytic, but can also be used to treat acute alcohol withdrawal symptom.



Drugs that changed the world - TagametTagamet (Cimetidine)

Cimetidine was discovered in the 1970s and was the first effective anti-ulcer drug. Previously, peptic ulcers were extremely serious, causing periods of intense pain over many years. Without treatment, an ulcer could result in severe bleeding and death. Temporary relief was provided by treatment with antacids, rest and by following a bland diet. As a last resort, part of the stomach would be removed.

Since its launch, cimetidine has transformed millions of lives. Tagamet was the main treatment until ranitidine, omeprazole and other newer drugs were introduced.



Drugs that changed the world - VentolinVentolin (Salbutamol)

Salbutamol was discovered in 1966 at the Allen & Hansburys laboratory, following research led by Sir David Jack, and was launched as a Ventolin inhaler to treat asthma in 1969. It was the first drug classified as a beta2-adrenergic agonist for the treatment of bronchospasm associated with asthma, alleviating breathlessness by causing airway smooth muscles to relax.

Today, salbutamol remains one of the most widely prescribed asthma medications and is used for the immediate relief of symptoms.



Drugs that changed the world - InsulinInsulin

Dr Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin in 1921. After removing the pancreas of a dog, they noticed it developed diabetes. They isolated a substance named “isletin” in the pancreas, which was used to treat the dog. Its blood glucose level dropped and it seemed healthier and stronger. With a few injections per day, the dog remained healthy and free of symptoms.

After extensive tests, the first human received “Insulin” in Canada in 1922. It was a rousing success, and a previously lethal disease became treatable.



Drugs that changed the world - The pillThe contraceptive pill

Prior to the launch of the contraceptive pill, women’s lives were very different. Having children was often not a choice, with most women expected to stay at home and raise an expanding family. A breakthrough came in 1951, when activist, Margaret Sanger, met Endocrinologist, Gregory Pincus and persuaded him to work on a birth control pill.

After extensive trials, the pill was approved in 1957 to treat severe menstrual disorders. It was not until 1961 that it was approved for contraceptive use in the UK. ‘The pill’ changed society, as it gave women other options, rather than being expected to be the child bearers.





  1. (Largactil) –
  2. (Largactil)
  3. (Largactil) –
  4. (Morphine) –
  5. (Morphine) –
  6. (Propranolol) –
  7. (Propranolol) –
  8. (Isoniazid) –
  9. (Isoniazid) –
  10. (Isoniazid) –
  11. (Fluoxetine) –
  12. (Fluoxetine) –
  13. (Sodium Valproate) –
  14. (Sodium Valproate) –
  15. (barbital) –
  16. (barbital) –
  17. (Chlordiazepoxide) –
  18. (Chlordiazepoxide) –
  19. (Salbutamol) –
  20. (Salbutamol) –
  21. (Salbutamol) –
  22. (Insulin) –
  23. (Insulin) –
  24. (The Pill) –
  25. (The Pill) –
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