Tetracycline

Lloyd H. Conover is credited with having invented the first antibiotic made by chemically modifying a naturally-produced drug. His creation, Tetracycline, has been one of the most frequently prescribed antibiotics in the United States for treating bacterial infections for several decades.

Conover was born in Orange, New Jersey in 1923. He received his BA from Amherst College in 1947 and a PhD from the University of Rochester in 1950. Originally his plan was to become a professor, but upon completion of his studies, he decided to join the chemical research department at drug company, Pfizer, instead.

At Pfizer, Conover joined a team that was exploring the molecular architecture of the broad spectrum antibiotics Terramycin and Aureomycin. Conover and his team, working with Harvard Professor R.B. Woodward, realized that it was possible to chemically alter an antibiotic in order to produce other antibiotics that were very effective in treating various types of afflictions. In 1952, Conover developed Tetracycline, which was the first therapeutically superior drug to be made in this way. The discovery prompted an industry-wide search for superior structurally-modified antibiotics, which has provided most of the important antibiotic discoveries made since then.

Conover patented Tetracycline in 1955, and within just three years, it became the most prescribed broad spectrum antibiotic in the U.S. Meanwhile, the patent for Tetracycline was attacked in court for its issue. The final ruling didn’t come until 1982, which upheld the patent and the right of scientists to continue to patent similar discoveries. 

Later, in 1972, Conover and co-inventors W.C. Austin and J.W. McFarland patented the anthelmintic drugs Pyrantel and Morantel. Pyrantel remains a leading drug for the treatment of most of the human intestinal worm parasites. Each of these drugs is also important in controlling parasites in farm and companion animals.

Conover became the research director at Pfizer Central Research in Sandwich, England, in 1971. He retired as a senior vice president in 1984.

Today, Tetracycline is still being used to combat serious bacterial infections.

Conover was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1992.