Salvarsan and Prontosil

Paul EhrlichPaul Ehrlich

Salvarsan and Prontosil

Paul Ehrlich studied arsenic compounds for their anti-bacterial properties, and in 1909 invented Salvarsan, which was applied for the successful treatment of syphilis. This strategy was followed by other researchers to find active compounds in combating infectious diseases.

Streptococcus bacteria

Treponema pallidum bacteria

Bacterial culture in a laboratory petri dishBacterial culture in a laboratory petri dish


Gerhard DomagkGerhard Domagk

Accordingly, Prontosil, the first sulfa drug, formerly used as a textile dye, was discovered in 1935, as chemists searched for an antibacterial drug that might cure the previously deadly streptococcal infection, a common cause for chronic pneumonia. Its discovery was important enough for German biochemist Gerhard Domagk to receive the 1939 Nobel Prize in medicine.

Salvarsan and ProntosilSalvarsan and Prontosil

In 1938, a British research group showed that it was sulphanilamide that was the actual active antibacterial agent in Prontosil. Many products were later created from this agent, including sulphapyridine (1938) that was dramatically successful in reducing the mortality rate of lobar pneumonia in the 1940s, and saved the life of millions in military and civil sectors. Sulphanilamide only lost its importance with the discovery of pennicilin. Today, sulphanilamides are mainly used for reducing high blood-sugar level and utilized in diuretics.

Did you know?

Streptococcus may cause a high number of illnesses. In addition to streptococcal pharyngitis (or strep throat), certain streptococcus species are responsible for many cases of caries, scarlatina, arthritis, and toxic shock syndrome.