Got allergies? Need relief? Thank George

September 30, 2007

For some people allergies and allergic reactions can be terrible. For example Alex is a gross to be near booger-bag for several weeks a year, and Christina has an itch fest when exposed to sulfonamides. I am lucky enough to only be mildly allergic to Tide and tomato plants, but I do seem to be developing an allergy to my basement, or the fluffy cat that lives there. But when your eyes puff up, or hives appear, or your nose is running, or you can’t stop sneezing what do we turn to? Benadryl. I thought a brief mention of the man behind Benadryl would be worth posting. I am not sure if it is all pharmacy schools or just Temple, but antihistamines come up at least 3 times a day. Somehow my professors can work it into any lesson (from anatomy to immunology to pharmaceutics or even medicinal chemistry)

George Rieveschl, a chemical engineer (not a medical doctor) whom millions of sufferers of allergies, colds, rashes, hives and hay fever can thank for the relief they receive by swallowing a capsule of beta-dimethylaminoethylbenzhydryl ether hydrochloride — the antihistamine he invented and renamed Benadryl — died Thursday in Cincinnati. He was 91

Dr. Rieveschl (pronounced REE-va-shell), who had a Ph.D. in chemistry, was an assistant professor researching muscle-relaxing drugs at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1940s when he realized the powerful potential of that 19-syllable antihistamine compound, then being tested as a muscle relaxer.

Histamines are chemicals made in some cells that can damage the tiny blood vessels called capillaries, allowing blood plasma to leak into body tissues and cause swelling, itching and redness. Antihistamines are manufactured compounds that block receptors in the capillaries, preventing those irritating and sometimes even fatal effects.

“What George Rieveschl did was synthesize a compound that is much more tolerable because it causes much less drowsiness,” said Dr. I. Leonard Bernstein, a professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati and a former president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “It’s a very benign drug that most people can tolerate.”

The discovery of Benadryl was also significant because it was the first finding that specific receptors in capillaries can be affected by different compounds. “So there are now a whole series of antihistamines that will counter these different histamine receptors,” Dr. Bernstein said. “It was a key discovery.” It was also a profitable one.

Based on sales that rose to about $6 million a year by the early 1960s, that proved quite lucrative for him, Dr. Rieveschl told The Cincinnati Post in 1999. However, he said, he did not benefit from the huge profits Parke-Davis made after the Food and Drug Administration allowed Benadryl to become an over-the-counter drug in the 1980s. Sales then jumped to more than $180 million a year.

“He did this on his own, in the days before we had research teams,” Dr. Bernstein added. “He understood this concept because he was a good organic chemist.”

By DENNIS HEVESI

Published: September 29, 2007