Pharmacopsychiatry 2003; 36 - 306
DOI: 10.1055/s-2003-825549

50 years of chlorpromazine – Serendipity or necessity

MM Weber 1, W Burgmair 1
  • 1Max-Planck-Institute of Psychiatry, Historical Archives

In 1952 the introduction of chlorpromazine revolutionized the therapeutic concepts of psychiatry. This change marked the begin of the modern era of psychopharmacology. Although today the use of neuroleptics and antidepressant is a matter of course, many psychiatrists are unaware of the complex historic developments that paved the way towards the substances that became paradigmatic for the psychiatric treatment of the last five decades. One of the main unanswered questions is the problem of „serendipity“. Many medical experts are convinced that the psychopharmacologic innovations of the 1950ies – and afterwards – resulted from „development by chance“.

However, theory and history of science prove that this understanding of „serendipity“ is misleading. The prerequisites for modern psychopharmacology can clearly be identified since the 1850ies, e.g. the structure determination of organic compounds or the shift of pharmacologic research from the universities to the chemical industry.Therefore, chlorpromazine is still a good example to demonstrate fundamental characteristics of our field.