Laboratorios Syntex SA was a pharmaceutical company formed in Mexico City in 1944 by Russell Marker to manufacture therapeutic steroids from the Mexican yams called cabeza de negro (Dioscorea mexicana) and Barbasco (Dioscorea composita). The demand for barbasco by Syntex initiated the Mexican barbasco trade.[1]

ACS: “In early 1944, the new Mexican company was chartered and named Syntex, S.A. (‘Synthesis and Mexico’). According to Marker, Somlo was to receive 52% of the shares, Lehmann, 8%, and Marker, 40%, partly in return for his two kilos of progesterone.” Russell Marker, shortly thereafter, left Syntex on account of his ruthless cofounder.[2]

Luis E. Miramontes, George Rosenkranz and Carl Djerassi synthesis of norethindrone, later proven to be an effective pregnancy inhibitor, led to an infusion of capital in Syntex and Mexican steroid pharma industry.[3]George Rosenkranz and Carl Djerassi then went on to synthesizing cortisone from diosgenin, the same phytosteroid contained in Mexican yams used to synthesize progesterone and norethindrone. The synthesis was more economical than the previous Merck & Co. synthesis, which started with bile acids.

Syntex was acquired by the Roche group in 1994.[4]

Prominent researchersEdit

  • Russell Marker co-founded the company in 1944. In May 1945, realizing that he was being left out of the company's profits, he left the company. When he took his notebooks, the production was hampered because Marker had done the synthesis himself and had coded the reagent bottles.
  • George Rosenkranz had studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and was conducting pharmaceutical research in Cuba.[5] He joined Syntex in 1945 to replace Marker. He hired Djerassi in 1949.
  • Carl Djerassi went to work at Syntex in 1949 as the associate director of chemical research. He remained there through 1951, leaving to join the faculty of the Chemistry Department at Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan) starting in 1952.
  • Alejandro Zaffaroni developed procedures for identifying and separating steroids using paper chromatography while studying at the University of Rochester, and joined Syntex as a research biochemist in 1951. He became vice-president in 1956, and was appointed president of Syntex's U.S. subsidiary in Palo Alto, California in 1962.
  • Luis E. Miramontes moved from UNAM to Syntex in 1950 as a researcher under Djerassi. Under the direction of Djerassi and Rosenkranz, he performed the last step of the first synthesis of an orally highly active progestin on 15 October 1951. The semi-synthetic steroid, norethistrone (19-Nor-17-alpha-ethynyltestosterone), was the first orally highly active progestin, which led to the development of the first oral contraceptive pills.
  • Albert Bowers joined Syntex, in 1956 as research group leader; went on to publish more than 90 scientific papers on steroid research and originated more than 120 U.S. patents. Bowers became president of Syntex in 1976, was chief executive officer from 1980 to 1989 and had served as chairman of the board, 1981-1990.
  • Jerzy Rzedowski worked as an explorer botanist. He later became the most prominent plant scientist in Mexico.
  • Ralph Dorfman Joined the company as a consultant in 1960, eventually serving as President of Syntex Research from 1967–1973

Birth control pillEdit

Syntex submitted its compound to a laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, for biological evaluation, and found it was the most active, orally-effective progestational hormone of its time. Syntex submitted a patent application in November 1951. In August 1953, G.D. Searle & Co. filed for a patent for the synthesis of the double-bond isomer 13 of norethindrone called noretynodrel. Noretynodrel is converted into norethisterone under acidic conditions, such as those in the human stomach, and the new patent did not infringe on the Syntex patent. Searle obtained approval to market noretynodrel before Syntex received its approval. By 1964 three companies, including Syntex, G.D. Searle, and Johnson & Johnson under the Ortho Pharmaceutical brand, were marketing 2-mg doses of the Syntex norethindrone.

Scientific misconductEdit

Syntex's submission of a fraudulent toxicology analysis of naproxen largely led to the Food and Drug Administration's uncovering of extensive scientific misconduct by Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories in 1976.[6][7][8][9]


  1. ^ Soto Laveaga, Gabriela (2009). Jungle Laboratories: Mexican peasants, National Projects and the Making of the Pill. Duke University.
  2. ^ "The 'Marker Degradation' & Creation of the Mexican Steroid Hormone Industry 1938–1945" (PDF). 1999.
  3. ^ George Rosenkranz, 102, a Developer of the Birth Control Pill, Is Dead:
  4. ^ Freudenheim, Milt (3 May 1994). "Roche Set To Acquire Syntex". New York Times.
  5. ^ Rosenkranz had fled Nazi Germany to avoid the eventual Holocaust; while in Cuba en route to South America, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor stranded him there. He was able to work there for the duration of the war.
  6. ^ Marshall, Eliot (1983-06-10). "The murky world of toxicity testing" (PDF). Science. 220 (4602): 1130–1132. Bibcode:1983Sci...220.1130M. doi:10.1126/science.6857237. PMID 6857237. Retrieved 2012-07-27.
  7. ^ "The Scandal in Chemical Testing". The New York Times. 1983-05-16. Retrieved 2012-07-27. The problem was discovered only by accident, when a Government official looking for something else pulled out a file of IBT data by mistake.
  8. ^ Merrell, Paul (Winter 1981). "The Industrial Bio-Test Caper" (PDF). NCAP News. 2 (3): 2–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
  9. ^ Foster, Douglas; Mark Dowie; Steve Hubbell; Irene Moosen; Peter Waldman; Center for Investigative Reporting (June 1982). "Poisoned Research". Mother Jones. 7 (5): 38–40, 42–43, 45–48. Retrieved 2012-07-28.
  • Carl Djerassi Steroids. 1994 Jan;59(1):58-9
  • Max F. Perutz I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Scientists, and Humanity. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 1998
  • Carl Djerassi This Man's Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill. Oxford University Press 2001
  • Lara V. Marks Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 2001
  • Carl Djerassi Steroids Made It Possible. American Chemical Society, Washington DC, 1990