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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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Prosperous pioneers (continued)

Nicholas clearly saw the importance of product innovation. In 1928/30 he started a separate manufacturing company for salicylates, Monsanto Southern Cross, together with Monsanto UK, to gain access to Monsanto corporate knowhow. He sought new products by acquisition and Nicholas' own research, both in Australia and overseas, albeit on a scale far too small by the standards of the international pharmaceutical business. When 'Aspro's' star began to fade and the scale of international R & D eluded Nicholas' resources more and more, Nicholas sought innovation at the fringe: Novel packaging in cheap, small and water proof packages ('Sanitape'), roll compression tablets, excursions into vitamins ('Aktavite') and even chemically simple prescription drugs, 'Megimide' and 'Daptazole', derived from work by Prof. F. W. Shaw at Melbourne University; these however, fell far short of being major drugs.

There were some other avenues to broadening the market, veterinary drugs and formulation of imported drugs. Already in the forties Nicholas' had established a development department; in 1955 they added a research department in the Dandenongs near Melbourne which ran until well into the seventies and similar smaller establishments overseas. The animal market in Australia was much larger than the human pharmaceutical market, yet it, too, depended on a succession of new drugs and faced fierce international competition. The CSIRO helped to some extent. In 1955 Hedley Marston's team (CSIRO) found that traces of cobalt cured 'coast disease' and Phalaris Staggers in sheep and CSIRO developed slow release 'cobalt bullets'. However, the local market was small and fragmented by CSIRO's policy of non-exclusive, wide licensing, and the product was a failure overseas. Nicholas persisted with their research department and veterinary work for some years, but as time progressed the entrance fee into the core pharmaceutical business, the discovery of a major new drug per se, increased and the gap between target and resources became wider and wider. To cope, Nicholas had gone public already in the UK in 1937 and in 1971 reunited their Australian and overseas businesses in Melbourne. Two ambitious attempts to forge links to international producers with major R & D strength -a joint company overseas with Pfizer and an approach to Parke Davis -failed, perhaps because of the disparity of resources.

An important facet of the story is Nicholas' impact on the chemical industry itself. In 1928 the Nicholas family together with Monsanto founded Monsanto Southern Cross. The manufacture of salicylates in due course stimulated the local production of phenol, phenacetin and acetanilide by this company (1940) and, after the separation of the Nicholas and Monsanto interests in 1941, led to the formation of one of the pioneering chemical companies in Australia, Monsanto Chemicals Australia Ltd.

Nicholas' historical significance is that they were one of the first Australian multinational companies. They recognised the key elements, innovation, marketing and international operation but could never quite raise enough resources to break the last barrier in R&D, continuity of discovery of basic new drugs.

The attitude of public sector research and Government policies played an important role, or, rather, failed to play a positive role. Academics and the CSIRO helped but never saw Nicholas -or any other single company -as a vehicle to a national pharmaceutical industry, although, throughout the years, very substantial public funds were spent in the medico-pharmaceutical and biological areas.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - CSIRO; Monsanto Australia; Monsanto Southern Cross; Parke-Davis

People in Bright Sparcs - Marston, Hedley; Nicholas, George; Shaw, Prof. F. H.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 656 - 658, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher