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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals
i Prosperous pioneers
ii War-time pharmaceutical chemistry
iii Commonwealth Serum Laboratories
iv Post-war pharmaceutical manufacture
v Public sector policies

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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War-time pharmaceutical chemistry (continued)

The importance of sulfanilamide was not to be in its use as a drug -it had turned out to be more toxic that later sulpha drugs -but as an intermediate to its successor, sulphaguanidine. Bacillary dysentery, in both World Wars, was at times as great a threat to the army as the enemy -at least in terms of temporary disablement. Sulphaguanidine was effective against it and the Australian army was the first to adopt it. Drs V. M. Trikojus and G. K. Hughes of Sydney University evolved a variant of the synthesis, utilising the available sulfanilamide and dicyandiamide derived from calciumcyanamide as starting materials. Monsanto Australia were able to scale the process up quickly -within six weeks the first 100 Ibs were delivered to the army. Sir Alan Newton, Chairman of M.E.C.C. commented: 'If this drug had not been available there might well have been a different end to the battle of Kokoda'. An improved process invented by Monsanto[61] subsequently raised yields and throughputs and enabled Monsanto to meet the demand of the British forces in India and Burma. Monsanto Australia had become one of the two large producers of the drug in the world.

Yet another sulphadrug synthesised during the war was sulphamerazine; it was more complex because it was a heterocyclic compound. Malaria was perhaps the most serious threat to Austalia's striking power in the Pacific -Mellor[62] reports that '5816 Australians were killed or wounded while 21,600 were stricken with malaria during the Kokoda-Buna campaign'. Local manufacture of sulphamerazine was given highest priority. Professor A. K. MacBeth of Adelaide University developed an eight step synthesis from benzene, chlorine, ammonia, carbon bisulphide, alcohol (CSR) and pyridine (Timbrol). A team of chemists and engineers (led by J. A. R. Glenn, F. Lament, L. W. Weickhardt) built a pilot plant and almost simultaneously the full scale plant. Amongst the war-time shortages were suitable vessels. The development of the first glass-lined reactor in Australia (W. Bonython) was part of the task. It was Australia's first experience of progressively declining yields in an eight step process; 30 tonnes of raw materials and virtually the whole factory's resources were required to produce one tonne of the drug. Eventually a production rate of two tonnes per month was achieved.[63] By then medicine had overtaken events: It was demonstrated that sulphamerazine was effective against the malignant form of malaria only, almost ineffective against benign malaria and, in any case, no better than the established drug, atebrin. Yet, subsequently the compound became important as the starting point to yet another drug, paludrine.

An effective attack on malaria was by prevention. The Swiss (P. Mtiller, 1940) had discovered the insecticidal properties of D.D.T. and the Americans had established its efficacy in the control of the mosquitos carrying the malaria infection. Synthesis from benzene, chlorine and ethanol was well within the resources of ICI Australia. After experiments on the sulphamerazine pilot plant at Deer Park a full scale plant was erected at Yarraville in 1943 which supplied a substantial proportion of the antimalarial campaign in the South Pacific war arena.[64] Yet another preventive measure against malaria were the insect repellents evolved in the USA and produced in Australia by Stanco (Australia) Pty Ltd, a Vacuum Oil subsidiary. Dimethyl phthalate was found by Professor J. C. Earl of Sydney University to be the most effective repellent; the intermediate phthalic anhydride made from naphthalene at Newcastle Chemicals (later ICI Australia) was locally available and by 1943 a plant producing the dimethyl phthalate repellent was in operation. When R. N. McCulloch of the CSIRO established that phthalates were effective against scrub mites and that dibutyl phthalates were more persistent, CSR-Chemicals (then Robert Corbett Pty Ltd) adopted the Weizmann process for butyl alcohol to produce this ester. Dibutyl phthalate substantially reduced the incidence of scrub typhus.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - C.S.R. Chemicals Ltd; I.C.I. Australia Ltd; Monsanto Southern Cross; Newcastle Chemicals; Robert Corbett Pty Ltd; Stanco (Australia) Pty Ltd; Timbrol Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Bonython, W.; Earl, Prof. J. C.; Glenn, J. A. R.; Lamont, F.; MacBeth, A. K.; McCulloch, R. N.; Mellor, D. P.; Newton, Sir Alan; Trikojus, Prof. V. M.; Weickhardt, L. W.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 659 - 660, Online Edition 2000
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