From the white mouse to Homo sapiens
How did the medical profession receive the introduction of female sex hormones as a new type of drug? The clinical reports published in the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde gave Organon’s female sex hormone therapy mixed reviews. The results of the clinical trials in the 1920s fell short of the high expectations that had accompanied the marketing of the new drug. At an international congress in 1927, clinicians reported poor results in clinical trials with female sex hormones. Most clinical trials undertaken in The Netherlands and abroad had given negative results. In 1929 the Dutch gynecologist Van Dongen judged the results of female sex hormone therapy as disappointing: “the route from the white mouse in the laboratory to Homo sapiens in the consulting-room is a long route that is not yet bridged” (Dongen 1929:3,787). These poor results were blamed chiefly on the small amounts of active hormonal substance present in the commercial hormone preparations, and on underdosage in the prescription of female sex hormones.
The critical evaluation of clinical trials with female sex hormones indicated two strategies: to improve the quality of the products and to increase the dosage. Organon had anticipated this criticism and had already adopted both strategies. In advertising campaigns and clinical trials Organon suggested increased dosages,11 and it introduced a new female sex hormone preparation under the trade name of Ovariaalhormoon Folliculine
Menformon, advertised as “the first standardized female sex hormone” (usually referred to as Menformon).
In contrast to its earlier products, Organon had tested the activity of Menformon in animal experiments. With the use of standardized biologi-cal assays, the quantity of active substance in this female sex hormone preparation could be estimated (Organon Archive August 1926, undated letter). Organon evaluated the marketing of Menformon in a special issue of Het Hormoon published in 1956 to celebrate the thirtieth “anniversary” of this hormone preparation:
thanks to Laqueur, among others, the first extensively purified and standardized—water-soluble—estrogenic hormone preparation was put on the market. This was a very significant occasion. Previously, ovarian preparations had been applied, but the unreliable activity of these preparations was a serious handicap. Clinical research and practice was henceforth provided with a preparation with which one could work more precisely, and from which more stable results could be expected, and it had also the major advantage that it could be injected.
At an international congress in September 1927, the quality of this product was judged much higher than the female hormone preparations from other countries, and the position of Organon was improved in the world market (Organon Archive 26 October 1927).
The close cooperation with Laqueur’s laboratory once again proved its crucial importance for Organon.