The much-hyped drug sparked a battle between power and knowledge. Let’s not repeat it.
IN THE MID-1600S, a Jesuit priest serving in Peru got a useful tip. The indigenous people there, he learned, were using the bark of a particular kind of tree to treat fevers. The priest, who’d probably gone a few rounds himself with the local diseases, got ahold of some of the reddish-brown bark from this “fever-tree” and shipped it back to Europe. In the 1670s, what came to be called Jesuit bark had made its way into a popular patent medicine, along with rose leaves, lemon juice, and wine.
The strange and complicated story behind Hydroxychloroquine and its place in a global pandemic.
Medicine that treats a deadly disease but grows only on certain finicky trees is the kind of thing chemists live for. A failed attempt to synthesize quinine in the 1800s had accidentally produced the first synthetic pigment (a lovely shade of mauve); after World War I, when endemic malaria arguably did almost as much as Allied soldiers to limit Germany’s expansionist ambitions, that country set its scientists to solving a problem. A dye company called Bayer took up the quinine challenge, synthesized some reasonably useful replacements, and became a pharmaceutical powerhouse with a global market. When World War II denied the US access to both German drugs and the quinine-producing cinchona trees of Java, the Americans basically stole a recipe from German prisoners of war and turned that into a successful treatment.
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