[OUTLOOK]A century-old business model

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[OUTLOOK]A century-old business model

American television network NBC aired a program about 25 easy ways to help live a long life. These methods had been verified by research on 80,000 cases.
The first recommendation was that middle-aged and elderly people should take a daily aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Aspirin is one of Germany’s three major inventions. Around 400 BC, Hippocrates used extract of willow bark to relieve pain and reduce fever. Two thousand years later, it was discovered that salicin was the major substance that produced such effects.
A similar substance, salicylic acid, turned out to be more effective as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. However, because this substance tasted terrible, caused nausea and led to stomach problems, people avoided taking it as medicine.
A 29-year-old chemist, Felix Hoffmann, tried to find new drugs in order to reduce the pain of his father who suffered from arthritis. In 1897, he synthesized a new drug, a mixture of salicylin acid and acetylsalicylic acid, which was easier for stomachs to tolerate.
Bayer Pharmaceuticals named the drug Aspirin, and started selling it as a pain reliever and fever reducer from 1899. Some thirty years ago, Sir John Vane discovered that Aspirin had the effect of inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins, which activate painful states. For his research, Sir Vane won a Nobel Prize for medicine in 1982.
Aspirin is the world’s first synthesized drug and its annual sales still exceed $60 billion, more than 100 years after it was first commercialized.
More surprisingly, new effects are being discovered even now.
Because of its acetylsalicylic acid, Aspirin stops blood platelets from clumping and thus has a preventative effect on cardiac disease, senile dementia and some types of cancer, including colon cancer. According to research, this substance also vitalizes a person’s body, by inducing the creation of nitrogen oxide, which helps activate the metabolism. If you are under the weather or suffering from fatigue and stress, taking Aspirin can be an easy way to get help.
However, as acetylsalicylic acid harms the membrane of the stomach, a long-term intake of Aspirin can cause gastric ulcers. Before having surgery, patients should not take Aspirin because, by preventing blood platelets from clotting, it makes bleeding more profuse. Children infected with a virus should also be careful when taking Aspirin. There have been incidents where children with a bad case of flu or chicken pox took Aspirin and then lost consciousness.
For children and patients who are vulnerable to such side effects from Aspirin, Tylenol was invented in the United States in 1955. Tylenol, along with Aspirin, became the two best selling painkillers. Aspirin is the best selling pain reliever in Europe, while Tylenol is the most popular in the United States.
By working on central brain mechanisms, Tylenol relieves pain and reduces fever but does not work as a non-inflammatory. While Tylenol is believed to be safer than Aspirin, the latter is more versatile.
It is not a good idea to take Tylenol after drinking alcohol, or when you have problems with your liver. Acetaminophen, a major substance of the drug, transforms into a toxic agent in the course of being metabolized. Under normal conditions, this substance is neutralized immediately. But if Tylenol is taken after drinking alcohol, or too large a dose is taken, the liver does not have the capacity to neutralize it so an acute hepatic insufficiency can arise and destroy liver cells. If a person drinks more than three glasses of alcohol every day regularly, taking Tylenol is likely to cause problems.
Pain is a sign and warning that indicates something is wrong in the body. Without this warning, a person could face even more serious problems. But it is still hard to endure pain once it starts. There have been no other drugs that relieved pain better than Aspirin or Tylenol. Although it is up to each individual to decide, Tylenol is better for people who have stomach problems, while Aspirin is better for those with weak livers. Both have simple chemical structures, and are relatively safe, cheap, and versatile.
In Korea, we have Hwal Myung Su, an oral liquid digestive, which is more than 100 years old. This digestive was made in the same year that Aspirin was synthesized. A high official at the royal court, Min Byung-ho, combined herbal medicine with Western medicine. Hwal Myung Su earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records, as the drug that has been sold for the longest time in Korea. This medicine is about to go on sale abroad.
I hope that Korean pharmaceutical companies invent other new drugs that can sell internationally as well as domestically, and thus help our biotechnology industry to advance.

* The writer is the director of the Bio-organic Science Division at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology.


by Kim Sung-soo
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