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Carl Djerassi: ‘father of the pill’ and renaissance man
  1. Lindsay Edouard, FFSRH, FRCOG, Professor
  1. International Advisory Editor, Port Louis, Mauritius; soranae@gmail.com

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Born on 29 October 1923 in Vienna, Carl Djerassi died peacefully at home from complications of cancer on 30 January 2015. He was considered by many to be the ‘father of the pill’ because his 1951 synthesis of norethindrone (norethisterone) was the initial step in the development of oral contraceptives. He was also known as an art collector, novelist, playwright and philanthropist.

Moving to America

Having an Austrian mother and Bulgarian father, both medical doctors and Jewish, Djerassi fled Vienna in 1938 due to the Nazi Anschluss, and in December 1939 arrived in New York with his divorced mother aged 16 and almost penniless. A personal request to Eleanor Roosevelt for a higher education scholarship was successful: he graduated in chemistry within 3 years and the thesis for his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1945 was on the synthesis of estrogens from androgens.

Career as a chemist

The industrial production of cortisone had become a priority with its use in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. In 1949, Djerassi was headhunted by Syntex, a small company …

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