Despite its importance and impact on our daily lives, the pharmaceutical industry has not attracted nearly as much attention as many other areas in the history of science and medicine. It is not entirely clear why this is the case, though it is not for lack of reminders in the popular press. The elusiveness of primary documentation on the pharmaceutical industry may help explain the lag in scholarly historical inquiries. But whatever the reason, more scrutiny is merited. Pharmaceuticals is one of the most research-intensive industries, it is an entity that usurped a central function of the pharmacist by the late nineteenth century, and it arguably can (and does) label itself the primary broker in the chemotherapeutic revolution of the twentieth century. It has been as consistently profitable throughout the twentieth century as any corner of the private sector; the global market for pharmaceuticals by the mid-1990s was estimated by one source to be $200 billion (U.S.) annually. By 2000, that figure had climbed to $317 billion, with North America accounting for about half that amount. Pharmaceuticals is also an enterprise that can produce drugs like thalidomide, a medicine emblematic of therapeutics gone wrong – and drug regulation simply gone. In the legislatures of the world’s leading producers of pharmaceuticals, the drug industry and its trade groups wield considerable influence. Therefore, the lag in historical attention to this industry cannot be for lack of impact by the subject.
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