Klaus K. Schmiegel helped to change the lives of millions of people around the world suffering from depression. His work in organic chemistry lead to the development of the widely successful antidepressant Prozac.
Born in Chemitz, Germany on June 28, 1939, Schmiegel immigrated to the United States in 1951 to pursue higher education, earning a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan, an MA in organic chemistry from Dartmouth College, and a PhD in organic chemistry from Stanford University. Upon graduation he accepted a position with Eli Lilly as a senior organic chemistry. He stayed at Eli Lilly from 1968 until his retirement.
At Eli Lilly, Schmiegel worked with Bryan Molloy to create a new set of compounds, which include a substance called fluoxetine hydrochloride. This would become the active ingredient in the world’s first commercially available selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, or chemical that carries messages between nerve cells, is secreted by one cell and received by another. When the message is received, a neurotransmitter is received by the original secreting cell in a process called “reuptake.” The SSRI known as Prozac is able to inhibit this process, which contributes to the relief of the anxious feelings suffered by those afflicted with depression disorders.
Prozac was first introduced in 1988, and has since revolutionized treatment for depression, as well as for compulsive/obsessive disorders, and premenstrual dysproic disorders. It has been prescribed for more than 35 million patients. Schmiegel, with Molloy, received Patent No. 4,314,081 for their new class of “aryloxyphenylpropylamines.” Schmiegel received a total of 18 patents related to the synthesis of compounds over the course of his career.
In 1999, Schmiegel and Molloy were inducted in the Inventors’ Hall of Fame, and that year they also received the American Innovator Award for their contributions to improved quality of life in the 20th Century. Schmiegel retired from Eli Lilly in 1993.