Accidental Discovery of Warfarin

Five medicines discovered by accident

The origin of Viagra is a well known story - it was an accident, stumbled upon whilst testing the medicine for its ability to reduce high blood pressure. But a world changing medicine being discovered by serendipity isn’t an uncommon story. In fact, some of the most useful medicines around were only found by chance. Here are five of our favourite accidental medicinal discoveries.

1. Hair loss medicines

Minoxidil and finasteride are both hair loss medicines (sometimes marketed as Regaine and Propecia respectively) which were first created with different goals in mind. The hair regrowth benefits of minoxidil were discovered by accident when it was initially approved as a drug to control high blood pressure. Finasteride was always thought to be able to control hair loss, but it was initially marketed as a medicine to reduce the size of enlarged prostates.

2. Warfarin

Before Warfarin was sold as a blood thinner, it has its uses as a type of rat poison. The medicine’s discovery began in America in the 1920s when hundreds of cows were unexpectedly dying of blood loss after having minor surgery. The cause of the problem turned out to be a chemical in gone off hay, which was preventing the animals’ blood from clotting, meaning they bled to death. This is awful and costly in livestock, but great if you need to get rid of rats. So it became a rat poison, special for the fact that it eventually killed the rats far away from the site of the crime. Warfarin is now used as a blood thinner in humans.

3. LSD

Okay, LSD might not be a substance you’re going to get prescribed on the NHS, but it was discovered by a fantastic accident, so the story is worth telling. In 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann was trying to create a drug to boost the circulatory and respiratory systems. Then, in his words, “I did not choose LSD; LSD found and called me.” Whilst trying to synthesise the chemicals, he touched an infinitesimal amount of the drug, and experienced a feeling and vision so weird he had to go home. He experimented with the drug on animals, and once he found that the limit for overdosing on it was very high, he began experimenting with the drug on himself, “in the friendly and private company of two good friends of mine.”

4. Penicillin

In the late 1920s, Alexander Fleming came across this medicine when he noticed one of his experiments had, uh, gotten mouldy. He discovered that the mould had wiped out the bacteria previously in the dish, and so invented the world’s first antibiotic. But he lost interest in his discovery, and it took Howard Florey and Ernst Chain until the early 1940s to use the medicine effectively on masse in humans. They were later awarded a Nobel Prize.

5. Smallpox vaccines

The vaccine against smallpox was the leader in immunisation, and was found mostly by chance. Smallpox is now the only human disease which has been eradicated by vaccines. In the 1700s, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had previously caught cowpox never got ill from smallpox. By the end of the century he had made the connection between the two, and inoculated an 8 year old boy with a sample of the cowpox disease. Several months later, he inoculated the boy with a dose of smallpox, and he didn’t get ill: he was immune.

Viagra has come a long way since its chance discovery. You can now buy it from an online pharmacist, or even as a subscription from a service such as Eddie.

Content Marketing Officer
Content Marketing Officer
Libby Mayfield

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