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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

Throughout the nineteenth century and beyond free traders believed that free trade would generate in each economy the industries most appropriate for it. In the British Empire free traders allocated to Australia the role of a resource country, supplying raw materials, wool, meat, grain and minerals, a role complementary to the industrial enterprises of Great Britain and later of the industrialised nations. One result of this role was a skew development of national skills which persisted in the pattern and orientation of the professions and changed only slowly even when the underlying economic links were weakening. In technical education it produced an imbalance between pure scientists and technologists, largely because there were few opportunities for the application of technical skills. As so often in history, war became the agent of change. War and the need for self-sufficiency in Europe, disruption of free trade, shortages and necessity during 1914-18 and 1939-45 brought out latent technical creativity in Australia and led the country into new manufactures. Some of these did not survive in post-war competition. Their lasting significance, however, was that they were the beginnings of a more even distribution and a higher level of skills. Supply disruption also took industrial chemists and chemical engineers into the pharmaceutical industry and, for the first time, systematically brought together academics and industrial chemists.

Particularly during the Second World War the combination of external threat, initiative by scientists and industrialists and, importantly, national coordination by the Defence Department's Medical Equipment Control Committee (MECC) and the Drug Committee of the Australian Association of Scientific Workers produced a remarkable flow of new manufactures and biological agents. While few of these developments were basic inventions, most of them occurred with little access to international know-how; most involved original innovations and step changes in volume and level of technological sophistication. They also reflected the emergence of second and third generation local technologists. Again it was remarkable how strong the influence of pharmaceutical chemistry was on developments in chemistry.[60]

Glucose, a pharmaceutical product in its own right and the precursor for Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), was produced at the beginning of the Second World War by W. Hoadley in Melbourne, and later by Hoadley's successors, Glaxo Pty. Ltd. Under Dr. (later Professor) V. M. Trikojus of Sydney University, and on the basis of earlier US work and imported bacteria, B. Cortis-Jones developed a synthesis of Vitamin C from glucose including a catalytic hydrogenation step and a fermentation process. In 1943 he joined CSR to transfer the process to large scale manufacture. CSR were able to meet the military demand and its subsidiary CSR-Chemicals Ltd. maintained manufacture until 1961. Supply of another Vitamin -A -was sought by the army and the UK. Before the war CSIRO had demonstrated that oil derived from local sharks was rich in Vitamin A. Nicholas' and Faulding's developed processes for the production of the material from sharks' livers and supplied the entire demand of the Australian army, the civilian population and a substantial export trade to the UK and India.

A major discovery, sulpha drugs, by I. G. Farben's F. Mietsch, J. Klarer (1930) and G. Domagk (1935, prontosil) had been established as spectacular bacteriostats and even bactericides in some applications by E. Forneau (Pasteur Institute), Colebrook, Kenny and Buttle (1937), just before the war. By 1939-41 Monsanto-Southern Cross had already entered manufacture of some basic organic chemicals, phenol, salicylic acid, sodium salicylate, phenacetin and acetanilide at their Footscray site. The raw materials, caustic soda, carbon dioxide and aniline were available because basic manufacture of heavy chemicals by then was well established by ICI Australia, Australian Oxygen Company and Timbrol. Production of phenacetin early in 1944 in sufficient quantity to supply the army with APC tablets was another major contribution by Monsanto to the war effort. Monsanto's early entry into organic synthesis also was helpful when war broke out in the Pacific. Monsanto (by then a subsidiary of the Monsanto Group), with access to raw materials and international know-how, was in a position to respond rapidly to the army's request to expand into the manufacture of the first sulphadrug, sulfanilamide. Timbrol provided aniline; Commonwealth Fertilisers chlorsulphonic acid; ICI Australia ammonia and CSR ethyl alcohol. Within five months -months ahead of plan -the sulfanilamide plant was on line. Medical advances, however, were even faster.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australia. Department of Defence. Medical Equipment Control Committee (M.E.C.C.); Australian Association of Scientific Workers. Drug Committee; Australian Oxygen Company; C.S.R. Chemicals Ltd; Colonial Sugar Refining Company (C.S.R.); Commonwealth Fertilisers; F. H. Faulding and Co. Ltd; Glaxo Pty Ltd; I.C.I. Australia Ltd; Monsanto Australia; Monsanto Southern Cross; Timbrol Ltd; W. Hoadley, Melbourne

People in Bright Sparcs - Cortis-Jones, B.; Nicholas, George; Trikojus, Prof. V. M.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 658 - 659, Online Edition 2000
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