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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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Post-war pharmaceutical manufacture

The foundations to chemotherapy had been laid already before the Second World War in the main industrial countries, particularly Germany, the USA, Britain and Switzerland. The crest of the technology wave occurred in the post-war years, with dramatic developments in almost all branches of science-based medicine -anaesthesis, sedatives, stimulants, cardiovascular drugs, hormones, and chemotherapy of parasitic and microbial diseases. The cost burden of research, toxicology, public safety, registration and international marketing, together with demands for increasing specificity, that is smaller markets for each effect, became such that those who did not grow with the industry -latecomers -could not keep pace. Some small countries in the centre of major markets, such as Switzerland, Holland or Denmark spawned their own multinationals in time. Most of the others, however, dropped out from the competition and the industry became dominated by the technology creating companies of the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the UK. The countries left behind were confined to less profitable downstream activities, manufacture of 'over-the-counter' (non-prescription) drugs, older (generic) drugs, the formulation of imported active ingredients and consumer products. Thus, while the sophistication of the industry had grown immensely the opportunities for major invention and innovation for down-stream producers declined -with the few exceptions already discussed. There were some attempts by international companies to make Australia their regional production centre, say for antibiotics as already mentioned (Cyanamid, Glaxo) or veterinary drugs (ICI Australia). Merck, Sharp and Dohme (Australia)[70] Pty Ltd started pilot plant manufacture of steroids in Australia in 1956 (cortisone and derivatives prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone in 1958) and followed this up by full plant scale synthesis of a range of human drugs, chlorothiazide (50,000 kg/yr), hydrochlorothiazide, mecamylamine and in 1961 probenecid (a uricosuric) and amitriptyline (an antidepressant, 1962). A synthetic chemical plant for a widely used sheep drench, thiabendazole (against worm infection) (630,000 kg/yr) and a coccidiostat amprolium (against fowl infections) followed in 1964. This was a significant production portfolio, a potential starting point for a regional centre. Yet government pricing policies made local manufacture non-competitive with options available in other regions. In 1982 Merck, Sharp and Dohme (Australia Ltd) closed down all synthetic operations in Australia and reverted to tableting and formulating imported products.

In 1974 one of the world's largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche established a sizeable Research Institute for Marine Pharmacology in Sydney (Dee Why), with some 60 staff. Its purpose was to isolate and test compounds of the marine fauna and flora for pharmacological evaluation. Regrettably, after a few years, once again the conclusion was that the prospects of major finds from natural substances could not compete with synthetic chemistry -in Switzerland.

Some local veterinary manufacture persisted: Arthur Webster with some assistance from CSIRO continued a fairly successful production of veterinary vaccines. The chemical industry, from the basis of a relatively large research effort in organic synthesis and several major inventions managed to maintain local production of, and sizeable earnings from royalties and exports of, a few veterinary products. Although these are part of the veterinary pharmaceuticals field they are discussed in the overall context of the chemical industry (see pp 687-690).

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (C.S.L.); Hoffman-La Roche; Merck, Sharp and Dohme (Australia) Pty Ltd; Research Institute for Marine Pharmacology

People in Bright Sparcs - Webster, Arthur

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 664 - 665, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher