Bayer's Aspirin


"Because Salicyclic acid (as Karl Lowig had found out many years earlier) could be obtained from the meadowsweet plant, the document contained the suggestion that an abbreviation of the plant's Latin genus, Spiraea, should be put at the heart of the new brand name. The letter 'a' could be added at the front to acknowledge acetylation, and the letters 'in' could be tacked onto the end to make it easier to say- as was customary with many medicines at the time. It was noted that there was a drawback to this proposal because it might be suggestive of the word 'aspiration', which wouldn't have been an appropriate metaphor. An alternative could be the name 'euspirin'. When it came to him, Arthur Eichengrün, whose idea the final name probably was, wrote "I am in favour of Aspirin because 'Eu' is generally used for improved taste and odour." (p.73)

"As doctors began putting Bayer's little packages to work, the word spread throughout the medical community that aspirin was a drug to be taken very seriously. More doctors were persuaded to try it and more of them gave it their blessing. Within three years around 160 scientific articles had appeared in its favour- an astounding response to a new drug, even by today's standards. Sometimes, the enthusiasm of these new disciples even outdid that of aspirin's inventors. It was more than just an anti-rheumatic treatment, they said. It was a powerful remedy for a range of other conditions too- headache, toothache, neuralgia, migraine, the common cold, influenza, 'alcoholic indisposition', tonsillitis, arthritis, perhaps even hay fever and diabetes. And, of course, the more flamboyant these claims were, the more other physicians began to prescribe aspirin and the higher its sales began to soar. In Germany, the rest of Europe and indeed the rest of the world, Bayer soon had a massive commercial success on its hands. The big question now was how best to control, protect and exploit it." (p. 78)

- Aspirin: The Story of A Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys (2004)

Arthur Eichengrün

"Actually, acetylsalicyclic acid [Aspirin] was discovered 100 years ago by Charles Frédéric Gerhardt, an Alsatian. for the next 50 years no one knew what to do with it. Then Arthur Eichengrün, Bayer's chief chemist in Germany, engaged in some skulduggery behind his scientific director's back.
The scientific director, Dr. Heinrich Dreser, a mathematician, was obsessed with a theory that the effectiveness of any drug depended on how well it conducted electricity. Because aspirin seemed to be a poor conductor, Dreser refused to allow it to be tested clinically, and insisted it would be "poison to the heart".
Eichengrün began secretly to test aspirin, first on himself and then passing it along privately to Berlin doctors to try on their patients. He found the drug to be a powerful pain reliever and fever reducer- and harmless to the heart. With this evidence, he forced a show-down with Dr. Dreser before the Bayer directors. Ironically, Dreser later was credited with introducing aspirin into medical use and became wealthy from its discovery.
Eichengrün did not reveal the true story of aspirin's birth pangs until he wrote his memoirs in a Nazi concentration camp. These were published a few years later in Die Pharmazie, a leading German pharmacological journal. Few would quarrel with Eichengrun's modest assessment of his contributions to medical history: "I believe that by the creation of aspirin I have done a great favor for humanity without any personal profit."
-pp. 68- 70, Reader's Digest (April 1954)

"By the time war broke out and Eichengrün was regretting not having left the country while he had a chance, little of his comfortable lifestyle was left.
Somehow he got by. The fact that his third wife, Lutz, was an 'Aryan' still counted for something, and he had friends who helped him out. Compared to many other Jews he was comparatively well off. But then in 1941 while on a visit to Munich, he managed to get into the Deutsche Museum and found out that not only was his part in aspirin's development uncredited, but he had also been denied any role in invention of acetyle cellulose as well. Someone somewhere was determined to deny him his rightful place in scientific history. It brought home the stark reality of the situation in a way that nothing else could.
Meanwhile, the mass deportation of Jews was beginning to gather pace and the protective veneer of Eichengrün's mixed marriage was starting to wear thin... He was [arrested] and deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The regime at the Theresienstadt was brutally rough, but in the perverse way that these things were measured it could have been worse... At one point the Nazis had even used it as a showcase to fool the Red Cross that conditions in the camps were tolerable... Clearly the camp regime was corruptible too, because somehow, either through influential friends on the outside or by bribing a guard, Eichengrün was able to get a room to himself.
He quickly found that behind this facade, the SS ran Theresienstadt with all the savagery they did elsewhere. It was freezing cold, shootings, beatings and torture were common, rations were at starvation levels and there were no medical facilities worth their name. This was particularly problematic for Eichengrün as he had recently been diagnosed a diabetic and was in serious need of the right care and drugs- a paradoxical position for someone who had made such a remarkable contribution to German pharmacology."
-pp. 186-187, Aspirin: The Story of A Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys (2004)

Advertising Wars

"In July 1916, Printer's Ink, a trade journal for the advertising industry, told its readers that Bayer was launching a discreet newspaper advertising campaign to familiarize Americans with its aspirin trademark.

The reader will not be urged to buy anything. The product will not be suggested as a remedy for any ailment. The uses to which it can be put will not be mentioned. The sole object of the publicity is trademark identification.

When the ads appeared a few weeks later, they could barely have been more reticent. Under the single headline 'Bayer' a picture of the company's aspirin bottle was followed by some brief words of copy: "Tablets of Aspirin. The Bayer Cross on every package and tablet of Genuine Aspirin protects you against all counterfeits and substitutes."
But this false modesty did little to save Bayer from the wrath of the AMA. Its response was swift and furious. Its journal reminded doctors that for seventeen years it had been legally impossible in America for anybody other than Bayer to sell acetylsalicyclic acid and that the public as a consequence 'have been made to pay exorbitantly for the monopoly our patent office granted this firm'. The moment the patent was up, doctors should prescribe alternatives.
It may seem strange now that such an innocuous set of advertisements should have provoked such ire, but the fact is that by the standards of the time Bayer was considered to have contemptuously flouted the ethics of the profession. It was as though all the AMA's long campaigns against branded and patent remedies counted for nothing."
-pp. 114- 115, Aspirin: The Story of A Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys (2004)

Bayer's Growth Thanks to Aspirin

"The years before the war had seen Farbenfabriken vormals Friedrich Bayer & Company complete its transformation from a middle-sized dye and coal-tar derivatives company into one of the biggest chemical firms in Germany. Boosted by the profits from aspirin, it had continued to invest heavily in developing new and ever more complex compounds for use in a myriad of industries at home and abroad. The pharmaceutical division was among the most active, devising antiseptics, barbiturates (a new class of sedative and hypnotic drugs) , heart treatments, leprosy treatments and much more. Some enjoyed a brief flurry of success before being superseded by more effective treatments developed by rivals.... Every young Bayer pharmacist must have dreamt of emulating that particularly discovery."
-p.117, Aspirin: The Story of A Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys (2004)

Aspirin & Arthritis

"Arthritis touches the lives of millions around the world. It is a painful, pervasive and disabling touch. IN the U.S. alone , it is estimated that approximately forty million people suffer from osteoarthritis (OA)...with an additional two to three million suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There are but two of over one hundred conditions comprehended within the term "arthritis". Modern health professionals have struggled to deliver safe relief from the often chronic pain associated with these diseases, but for decades the pain intervention of choice has been the long-term use of potentially dangerous nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Unfortunately, such long-term medication carries with it risks of serious side-effects such as kidney damage, peptic ulcers and associated severe hemorrhaging and perforation.
As the use of NSAIDS persists, and as the users age, the risks of serious toxicities increase."
-pp. 1-2, Beyond Aspirin by Thomas N. Newmark & Paul Schulick (2000)

Side Effects

  • Stomach Discomfort:
    "About 5% of those who take therapeutic doses of aspirin to treat everyday aches and pains experience heartburn, abdominal distress, nausea or vomiting. An estimated one-third to two-thirds of aspirin consumers notice mild to moderate abdominal discomfort. The low doses of aspirin used to prevent heart attack and stroke cause fewer stomach problems." (p. 119)
  • Bleeding:
    "Aspirin's anti-clotting action is the reason it helps prevent heart attack, stroke and several other conditions... But increased clotting time has a definite downside. In normal individuals, the standard two-tablet (650 mg) therapeutic dose of aspirin approximately doubles the time it takes blood to clot. The effect of a single therapeutic dose may last up to several days." (pp. 120 -121)
  • Gastrointestinal Bleeding:
    "In the normal course of digestion, everyone experiences a tiny amount of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. This blood loss is painless and typically amounts to about 0.6 ml per day... Aspirin damages the stomach lining (gastric mucosa), and any use increases GI bleeding." (p. 122)
  • Hearing:
    "Large doses of aspirin may case ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing impairment. These side effects are symptoms of aspirin overdose, but in some people they may develop even at moderate therapeutic doses" (p. 124)
  • Sensitivity: Asthma and Hives
    "In about three people per thousand, aspirin precipitates the wheezing and bronchial spasms of asthma or the red welt eruptions of hives Among those with asthma or chronic hives, the risk of allergic reaction is much higher - around 20%." (p. 124)
  • Gout:
    "Anyone with a history of gout should consult a physician about the advisability of taking aspirin. The drug may precipitate gout attacks.
    Gout is a form of arthritis." (p. 125)
  • Muscular Degeneration:
    "Some physicians have expressed concern that aspirin's antiplatelet action might contribute to muscular bleeding and aggravate any degeneration" (p. 126)
  • Vitamin Interactions
  • Drug Interactions
  • Diagnostic Test Interactions

- An Aspirin A Day by Michael Castleman (1993)
Bayer Aspirin Bottle