Lewis H. Sarett

National Medal of Science

Physical Sciences

For his pioneering contributions to the chemical synthesis of cortisone, steriodal hormones, and other chemotherapeutic agents which have contributed to the benefit of mankind.

For his pioneering contributions to the chemical synthesis of cortisone, steriodal hormones, and other chemotherapeutic agents which have contributed to the benefit of mankind.

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Birth
December 22, 1917
Age Awarded
58
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Sarett Oxidation; Synthesis Of Cortisone
Awarded by
Gerald R. Ford
Education
Northwestern University
Princeton University
Areas of Impact
Health & Medicine
Affiliations
Merck & Co.
Other Prizes
National Inventors Hall of Fame
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A needle punctures the skin, emptying its contents to soothe an aching joint. This magical elixir, a steroid called “cortisone,” reduces inflammation, restoring pain-free motion to once impaired limbs.

The substance, which occurs naturally in the body, was first synthesized in a lab by Lewis H. Sarett, a chemist at Merck Research Laboratories during World War II.

Using nearly 40 chemical steps, Sarett’s team converted desoxycholic acid into cortisone, which proved useful in controlling rheumatoid arthritis. For Sarett, this discovery just the beginning.

As head of medicinal chemistry at Merck, he continued to innovate. Recognizing the drawbacks of steroids, he helped develop nonsteroidal drugs for treating arthritis, including Indocin, Clinoril, and Dolobid.

In 1969, he became president of Merck Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories. Under his guidance, the company developed some of its biggest products including Vasotec and Prinivil, used to treat high blood pressure, and the cholesterol-lowering drug Mevacor.

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