JAN 24, 2018 6:00 AM PST

Elixir Sulfanilamide - A Drug that Kills

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

The word "elixir" comes from Greek origin of "powder for drying wounds". Its modern definition means a clear, sweet-flavored liquid medication. However, the case of Elixir Sulfanilamide, a poisonous formulation that was responsible for over one hundred death, went down in history as a textbook example of pharmaceutical malpractice and lack of drug regulation. 

In 1937, a pharmaceutical business called S. E. Massengill Company marketed an antibiotic liquid preparation under the name "Elixir Sulfanilamide". Sulfanilamide is a drug used to treat streptococcal infections, and had been used safely in tablet and powder form at the time. Massengill's chief chemist and a pharmacist, Harold Watkins, experimented and found that sulfanilamide would dissolve in diethylene glycol (DEG).

DEG, nowadays used as an antifreeze agent, is poisonous to humans and other mammals. On the basis of both lack of toxicity data and no requirement for safety testing, the Massengill Company simply adjusted the flavoring of the sulfanilamide liquid preparation, and then marketed the product. 

Elixir Sulfanilamide went on sale in September 1937. In less than a month, the American Medical Association already became aware the death of several patients who had taken the medication. Before FDA put the complete stoppage on the drug, at least 100 more Elixir Sulfanilamide-caused deaths had been reported.

Watkins committed suicide before trial. In response to public outcry, U.S. Congress passed the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required pharmaceutical companies to perform animal safety tests on their proposed new drugs and submit the data to the FDA, before any products enter the market.

Source: SciShow via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
JUN 29, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Education In The Post-Covid World: Alternative Ways to Learn Chemistry & Physics
JUN 29, 2021
Education In The Post-Covid World: Alternative Ways to Learn Chemistry & Physics
Article Summary As the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, its effects will echo throughout the STEM field. Physics and chemist ...
JUN 11, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Cutting-edge wearables: the next generation of electronics
JUN 11, 2021
Cutting-edge wearables: the next generation of electronics
New research published in Applied Physics Reviews from AIP Publishing considers the development of flexible supercapacit ...
JUN 15, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
DNA May Soon Become a Digital Storage Device
JUN 15, 2021
DNA May Soon Become a Digital Storage Device
We live in an age of information and data, and more is being generated every day. It's estimated that there are about te ...
JUN 20, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Illuminating the dark side of e-waste recycling
JUN 20, 2021
Illuminating the dark side of e-waste recycling
A new study published in the journal Resources, Conservation, and Recycling evaluates the shortcomings of electronics re ...
AUG 10, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Confirm Exoplanet at Half the Mass of Venus
AUG 10, 2021
Researchers Confirm Exoplanet at Half the Mass of Venus
An international collaboration of researchers has identified a rocky exoplanet half the size of Venus, making it the low ...
AUG 11, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Solve Jupiters 'Energy Crisis'
AUG 11, 2021
Researchers Solve Jupiters 'Energy Crisis'
Astronomers have solved Jupiter's 'Energy Crisis', a long-standing issue that has puzzled scientists for dec ...
Loading Comments...