Unit Seminar, Monday 3rd February

At: The Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine
Seminar Room, 47 Banbury Road, Oxford

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

‘Medicine and Media’
Conveners: Dr Amelia Bonea and Dr Cressida Jervis Read

Week 3 – 3 February
Christoph Gradmann, University of Oslo/Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine Oxford
Exploring the “Structural Change of Infections”: Anti-infective Drug Development at the Bayer Company, 1940-1980

The paper analyses how research on antibiotics resistance can be a driving force in the development of new antibiotics. Resistances, while being a problem for physicians and patients, offer enchanting perspectives for those who research and develop new medicines. Resistant strains impose limits on the usage of older medicines and simultaneously modify pathologies in a way that creates markets for new preparations.

My example to study this will be the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.  It had pioneered the development of anti-infective chemotherapies in the 1930s but had missed the boat when it came to fungal antibiotics. In combination with the effects of WWII the company, once a global player in pharmaceuticals, was in danger of being marginalized by Anglo-American big pharma.

In this critical situation the Bayer decided on a r&d strategy that aimed at capitalising on the problems created by the use of first generation antibiotics and to develop medicines that would specifically target pathologies that had resulted from antibiotics application such as drug resistant tuberculosis. The paper will follow drug development and marketing at Bayer from 1945 to about 1980.

About the Speaker

Christoph Gradmann’s research mainly focuses on the history of infectious disease in modernity (19th century to present). His point of departure was the cultural history and the history of science of late-19th-century German medical bacteriology. In this context he wrote a biography of the German physician Robert Koch (1843-1910). Recently he has broadened his focus and now investigates what had happened to infectious disease when they seemed to be returning at the end of the 20th century. Keywords are antibiotic resistance, nosocomial infections, emerging infections etc.

He is interested in the history of the standardisation of biological medicines from about 1850. This research started with studies on the history of tuberculin and has been expanded in scope to address the question if a specific entanglement of technology and biology is specific for the history of modernity. He has worked historiographic issues and in particular on the theory and history of biographies a s genre of historical text. He has published papers, has edited biographical dictionaries and written a book about biographies in interwar Germany.

Select Publications

Laboratory Disease: Robert Koch’s Medical Bacteriology. Johns Hopkins University Press 2009

Evaluating and Standardizing Therapeutic Agents, 1890 – 1950. Palgrave Macmillan 2010

Krankheit im Labor. Robert Koch und die medizinische Bakteriologie. Wallstein Verlag 2005

Magic Bullets and Moving Targets: Antibiotic Resistance and Experimental Chemotherapy 1900 – 1940. Dynamis 31 (2011), pp. 29-45.