International workshop

Organized by Christian Bonah, Université Louis Pasteur (Email [email protected] ) and Jean-Paul Gaudillière, CERMES (Email [email protected] )

Strasbourg, June 13-14th, 2003.


The history of drugs is far from being an uncharted territory in the history of science and medicine. A vast corpus of literature including histories of firms, biographies of great pharmacists, legal studies of drug regulation, as well as economic surveys have expanded in the past two decades. This literature has provided a vast corpus of information both on the industrialization of drug making, and on the use of chemical knowledge in order to synthesize molecules with interesting therapeutic properties. Our understanding of “drug as chemicals” however means that other important aspects in the history of drugs have been less discussed. These include the part played by the pharmaceutical industry in the development of clinical research, the paths followed in order to advance and use the biological sciences, as well as the impact of commercialization on the production of pharmaceutical knowledge.

Drugs are medical tools used for the management of diseases. They are at the same time industrial products, commercial goods, and research objects. One may describe this plurality by speaking of “boundary objects” circulating between heterogeneous worlds of practices. A convenient way to grasp this multifaceted nature of drugs is to concentrate on the history of specific compounds, thus cutting through the various drug-making worlds, combining the commercial, the medical, the legal, and the experimental.

Drug trajectories workshops gather papers concentrating on the history of one peculiar drug, or on set of related products. Rather than addressing the history of a company, a discipline, or a discovery, the aim of this workshop is to advance our understanding of the pharmaceutical seamless web, i.e. the complex links between biologists, medical practitioners, pharmacists, and drug manufacturers. Emphasis is placed on two related dimensions.

Industrially synthesized chemical compounds are latecomers in the history of pharmacy. For a long time, a majority of drugs have been derivatives of biological material. For instance, the early industrialization of drug making was associated with the preparation of materia medica based on the collection and growing of plants. Turning pharmaceutical preparations into industrial goods thus implied the mechanization of drying, cutting, filtering, or transporting extracts. Moreover, critical categories of contemporary drugs including sera, vitamins, hormones or antibiotics originate in the preparation and purification of biological material. The workshop will contribute to a better understanding of the longue durée of biotechnology by focusing on the development of these “biologicals”.

The historiography of the life and medical sciences has recently benefited from renewed interests in the technological dimensions of medicine. The impact of peculiar instruments and techniques, often mass-produced, on the development of medical knowledge has been recognized as an important topic. This move has however barely changed the “push” and “pull” model often used to evaluate industrial innovation, especially when it comes to products of mass consumption. A second aim of the workshop is therefore to gather papers addressing the impact of industrial practices, including production as well as patenting or marketing, on the definition of what we know about drugs and how we use them.

‘Producing sex hormones, controlling reproduction’ is the second workshop in a series launched last year in Berlin. It will concentrate on the trajectories of sex hormones, with a peculiar emphasis on sex steroids. Sex hormones are biologicals par excellence. Their history can be traced back to organotherapy. The preparation, sales and uses of extracts obtained from the sexual glands is one among these early “biotechnological” form of drug making which developed at the boundary between medicine, pharmacy, and the food industry. Uses were found in the treatment of specific reproductive ailments but as well in attempts at rejuvenation. Sex steroids emerged as chemically characterized products in the 1930s. Enlarged production and increased purity associated with their industrialization critically changed their uses. Their fate was linked a means to as well as a product of the expansion of reproductive medicine. It was also an element in the transformation of pharmaceutical industrial research into a biomedical enterprise. The aim of the workshop will be to keep track and analyze these connections, keeping a balance between the biological, the technical, and the medical dimensions.

An important historiography has already addressed issues like the discovery of sex steroids, the development of the pill, or aspects of hormonal therapy in gynecology. Building on this literature, the conference will assemble papers focusing on new issues, including: a) the development of forms of chemo-therapeutic control of male reproductive medicine including the treatment of sterility as well as the lack of potency ; b) the use of sex hormones as means of medical prevention in parallel to the care of existing ailments (the rise of hormonal replacement therapies); c) the diversity of paths followed by reproductive medicine in various countries, and their relationship to the local pharmaceutical configuration ; d) the development of industrial research in sex steroid chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology ; e) the articulation of these in-house activities with the physician’s practice and their vision of legitimate use ; f) the tensions between lay and professional uses of these drugs ; g) the development, appropriation, and medical utilization of other sex hormones than the sex steroids ; h) the introduction of mass-produced steroids in agricultural practice and veterinary medicine. (Jean-Paul Gaudillière)


I. Welcome and Introduction.

1. « A life working with sex-hormones » Claude Aron, Emeritus professor of histology at the medical Faculty Strasbourg.

2. “Introductory comment” Viviane Quircke (London)

II. From the laboratory to the « invisible industrialist ».

1.- « Bouin’s laboratory and the invention of sex steroids » Christian Bonah (IRIST/MISHA Strasbourg)

2. « Schering, Bayer and the industrialization of German reproductive medicine » Jean-Paul Gaudilliere (Cermes, Paris)

3. « Industrial development of steroid » Vivien Walsh (Manchester, Cermes)

Commentary : Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (MPIWG Berlin).

III. Sex hormones, gynecology and the promotion of reproduction.

1. « The treatment of female sterility in NS Germany. » Martina Schluender (Berlin)

2. « The sterile male in NS Germany » Florence Vienne (Berlin)

3. « Pituitary hormones and reproductive medicine » Naomi Pfeffer (London)

4. « A difficult liberalization : oral contraception in France » Sophie Chauveau (Lyon)

Commentary : George Weisz (Montreal)

IV. Sex hormones and the enhancement of the body.

1. « Cancer, surgery and hormonal therapy: the case of the ovaries » Ornella Moscucci (London)

2. « Gynecology and the uses of progesterone in postwar France » Ilana Löwy (Cermes, Paris)

3. « Hormone replacement therapy of menopause (contemporary debates) » Christelle Salles (Paris)

4. « Anabolic steroid and biotechnology enhanced athletes » Adam Russell (St Andrews, UK)

Commentary : Carsten Timmermann (Manchester).