Milestones in pharmaceutical development

Since ancient times, herbs and plant extracts have been used as a proven means of alleviating pain or healing certain diseases. But only in the last 120 years have pharmaceutical researchers been able to develop ever more effective medicines specifically based on individual active ingredients. Within a short space of time, researchers have been able to find cures for several major epidemics. Yet this is only part of the success story of pharmaceutical research in the 20th century. Today, the chance of surviving a heart attack is five times greater than in 1960. Yet the challenge of developing medicines remains huge: about 20,000 currently known diseases still cannot be appropriately treated.


All information refers to the year in which the drug was first launched on the international market or received approval for its given application. Innovations are included from about 1850 onwards.

  • 2016
    First drug used to treat spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)
  • 2015
    Drug improves survival in patients with chronic heart failure
  • 2015
    Drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors substantially lower cholesterol levels even in patients with extremely elevated cholesterol level
  • 2014
    First immunotherapy treatment that has broad application in cancer; restores immune system function
  • 2014
    Further developments in hemophilia products allow longer gap between injections
  • 2013/14
    Novel virustatics combined with other drugs offer a prognosis of over 90 % for patients with Hepatitis C
  • 2013/14
    Drugs with a triple mechanism of action cure multi-resistant tuberculosis
  • 2013
    First vaccine against meningitis type B
  • 2012
    First gene therapy licensed in industrial nations; alleviates inflammation of the pancreas in patients with genetic disorder LPLD (lipoprotein lipase deficiency)
  • 2011/2012
    Extended life expectancy in patients with metastatic skin cancer (melanoma) through drugs with new mechanisms of action
  • 2007
    First drug against liver cancer
  • 2007
    First antibody treatment for blindness due to age-related wet macular degeneration (AMD)
  • 2007
    Drugs with new dual mechanism of action used to treat HIV infection
  • 2006
    First vaccine against cervical cancer
  • 2006
    First drug used to treat the rare inherited disorder, Pompe disease
  • 2005
    First drug for cutting off blood supply to tumors
  • 2004
    First antibody product against bowel cancer
  • 2004
    Vaccines against diarrhea and vomiting caused by rotaviruses
  • 2001
    First drugs used to treat Fabry disease, an inherited metabolic disease
  • 2001
    First targeted treatment against chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
  • 2000
    First antibody therapy against breast cancer metastasis
  • 2000
    Cure for multi-resistant malaria with new active ingredient combination
  • 2000
    Drug that substantially reduces the risk of contagion in children of HIV-positive mothers
  • 1999
    Cure for Hepatitis C based on a combination of drugs (an alpha interferon + a synthetic virustatic)
  • 1999
    New drug class (TNF-alpha inhibitor) targets the reduction of inflammation in rheumatism and Crohn's disease
  • 1998
    First oral drug used to treat erectile dysfunction
  • 1998
    First specific drug used to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • 1996
    First three-drug combination to delay the outbreak of AIDS in HIV-infected patients by years
  • 1993
    First drug to slow down specific forms of multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • 1991
    New drug substantially reduces severe nausea during chemotherapy in cancer treatment
  • 1989
    New drug replaces surgery for stomach ulcers
  • 1988
    First EPO product to overcome anemia in dialysis patients
  • 1987
    First product used to treat HIV/AIDS
  • 1987
    Program to eradicate river blindness (tropical parasitic infection) commences with donated drug; it is still ongoing today
  • 1987
    Statins used to lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease
  • 1984
    Single drug used to treat death cap fungus poisoning
  • 1983
    First (anti-)hormone therapeutic agent against the recurrence of breast cancer
  • 1983
    First calcineurin inhibitor doubles the functional life of kidney transplants
  • 1982
    First genetically-engineered medicinal product on the German and US market: human insulin
  • 1980
    Eradication of smallpox through protective vaccination
  • 1980
    First ACE inhibitor for lowering blood pressure
  • 1980
    First drug against tropical parasitic infection bilharziosis
  • 1979
    First highly-effective drug used to treat testicular cancer: a cytostatic platinum-based drug
  • 1976
    First inflammation-reducing asthma drug (derived from cortisone)
  • 1976
    First H2 blocker used to treat abdominal and duodenal ulcers
  • 1968
    Factor VIII concentrates used to treat hemophilia A (from blood donors)
  • 1967
    First drug for protecting children from Rhesus factor incompatibility
  • 1967
    Giving protective heparin injections makes many orthopedic operations possible for the first time
  • 1964
    Beta blockers used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure
  • 1963
    First vaccine against measles
  • 1960
    First immunosuppressant, azathioprine, makes organ transplants possible
  • 1960
    First "pill" for contraception
  • 1958/1959
    First diuretic drugs (water pills) for lowering blood pressure
  • 1958
    First glycopeptide antibiotic
  • 1957/1958
    First cytostatic drugs used to treat leukemia (chlorambucil) and lung cancer (cyclophosphamide)
  • 1956
    First antidepressant (iproniazid)
  • 1956
    First sulfonylureas used to treat diabetes type 2
  • 1955
    Vaccinations against childhood polio
  • 1948
    First strong anti-inflammatory drug: nature-identical cortisone
  • 1945
    Chloroquine used as a cure for malaria
  • 1944
    Penicillin available as a drug
  • approx. 1944
    Influenza vaccination
  • 1939
    First anticoagulant drug (a heparin product) used to prevent thrombosis
  • 1935
    Sulfonamides used to treat bacterial infections
  • 1927
    Protective vaccination against tetanus
  • 1923
    Germanin for curing African sleeping sickness (early stage)
  • 1923
    Protective vaccination against diphtheria, a bacterial airway infection, usually fatal in children if left untreated (see also 1891)
  • 1922
    Insulin (from animals) used to treat diabetes
  • 1910
    First antibacterial product: arsphenamine (salvarsan) used to treat syphilis
  • 1899
    Acetylsalicylic acid: analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory
  • 1891
    First drug treatment for diphtheria, an infection of the respiratory tract that is usually fatal in children: diphtheria antiserum
  • 1885
    Rabies vaccine
  • 1848
    Chloroform used as an anesthetic in surgery