CHICAGO—The path to the discovery of cortisone—a top-selling, important drug, with dozens of indications—was complicated by failure, false moves, desperation and obsession. The tale, recounted in the Philip Hench, MD, Memorial Lecture: Crossroads of History & Hope: Discovery & First Use of Cortisone for RA at the 2018 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in October, is an odyssey with a cast of characters obsessed with the pursuit of the drug, said Eric Matteson, MD, emeritus professor of medicine in rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic.
Explore this issueFebruary 2019
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The story centers on the man who figured most prominently in the discovery of cortisone: Edward Kendall, MSc, PhD. He was recognized for the achievement in 1950 with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Dr. Kendall was a Mayo Clinic scientist who often didn’t get along well with his colleagues and, at the time, was not considered a great chemist and was “not a scholar,” according to one assessment. He was given to self-inflicted wounds: He twice announced in the early 1930s that he’d isolated cortin (later to be known as cortisone), only to be forced to retract the claim a year later each time.
“He faced the kind of embarrassing situation that would have ended the career of many scientists,” Dr. Matteson said.