Daniel Bovet


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(1907–1992) Swiss–Italian pharmacologist Bovet was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. In 1929 he gained a DSc in zoology and comparative anatomy from the University of Geneva where his father was professor of pedagogy. He continued research work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, serving as director from 1936 until 1947 and following up the discoveries of Gerhard Domagk on prontosil. He and his coworkers were able to show that the sulfonamide group is responsible for the antibacterial action of prontosil. The drug is only active in vivo as the animals metabolize the parent drug into sulfanilamide, which is the antibacterial compound.

Prontosil was a dye, protected by patents and expensive. Sulfanilamide was colorless, freely available, cheap to manufacture, and equally as effective as a bactericide. Many analogs, known as sulfa-drugs, have been made and these are widely used against streptococcal infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and scarlet fever.

These researches led Bovet to develop the earlier ideas of Paul Ehrlich, Emil Fischer, and Juda Quastel into a more refined ‘antimetabolite hypothesis’, which is one of the fundamental lines of approach in modern drug research. It is based on the idea that a chemical compound whose properties and molecular shape resemble those of a normal body metabolite may affect the functions of that metabolite. Just as a lock (a metabolic reaction) is opened by just one shape of key (a metabolite) so another slightly different shape of key (an antimetabolite) may jam the lock and prevent the new key from fitting. These ideas led Bovet to develop the antihistamine drug 933F in 1937 and this gave rise to a series of drugs that are useful for asthma and hay fever.

Later, after a trip to Brazil, Bovet became interested in the Indian nerve poison curare. The structure of curare had already been worked out and in 1946 Bovet began work on analogs, which led to the use of succinylcholine as a muscle relaxant in surgical operations.

In 1947 Bovet became head of pharmacology and chemotherapeutics at the Superior Institute of Health in Rome, where he remained until 1964, when he was appointed professor of pharmacology at the University of Sassari. He became an Italian citizen and in his later years carried out research work on tranquilizers and anesthetics. In 1971 he accepted the chair of psychobiology at the University of Rome, finally retiring in 1982. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1957 for his work on curare and antihistamines.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.