Article | History and Technology | 2009

Synthesis by Microbes or Chemists? Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing in the Antibiotic Era

by Arthur A. Daemmrich

Abstract

This article presents a case study of the rise of Pfizer as a leading pharmaceutical company, with a focus on changing relationships between manufacturing technology and R&D between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. Pfizer first moved into pharmaceuticals through participation in the U.S. government's penicillin effort during World War II. Having greatly expanded its biological manufacturing capacity to meet state needs, Pfizer adopted an R&D program to find new microbial antibiotics suited to its manufacturing technology after the war ended. In the 1950s and 1960s, Pfizer transformed itself into a chemistry-orientated pharmaceutical firm by reorienting its R&D toward chemistry. This led to a growing divergence between R&D and manufacturing and the eventual replacement of biological manufacturing with chemical manufacturing. The article explores the changing trajectories of R&D and manufacturing at Pfizer, their shifting positions within the firm, and the consequences of these changes and shifts for the firm's success, strategy, and organization.

Keywords: Research and Development; Production; Technology; Transformation; Relationships; Success; Organizations; Programs; Chemicals; Alignment; Pharmaceutical Industry; United States;

Citation:

Daemmrich, Arthur A. "Synthesis by Microbes or Chemists? Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing in the Antibiotic Era." History and Technology 23, no. 3 (2009): 237–256.