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Wellcome and Burroughs Laid the Groundwork for the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry

Published on December 14, 2020

Henry Wellcome, PCP 1874 and Silas Burroughs, PCP 1877In founding their namesake firm in 1880, Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs were not just laying the groundwork for one company, but rather the pharmaceutical industry as we know it today. Their operation would one day be part of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical empires, an integral component of what’s today known as GlaxoSmithKline. Wellcome in particular would become a major figure in the history of pharmacy, philanthropy, and biomedical research.

The two men were both Americans, trained at PCP, and were working as pharmacy representatives in London when they founded Burroughs Wellcome and Co.. Burroughs provided the startup capital, and early products included household items and consumables like shoe polish and soda water. The two soon focused on the rapidly-standardizing field of pharmaceuticals, importing compressed, controlled doses of medication in tablet form. “Tabloid” was the marketing neologism developed by Wellcome, an early innovator in marketing as well as the business and science of pharmacy.

The company focused on research and scientific validity, avoiding the patent medicine crazes of their day and building significant legitimacy. Research breakthroughs included the medical use and production of antitoxins to treat diseases like diphtheria.

After Burroughs’ early death in 1895, Wellcome expanded his concerns to include scientific research, and created numerous foundations, trusts, and libraries devoted to scientific research, the history of medicine, and archaeology. GSK is today one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and The Wellcome Trust one of the world’s largest charities, funding medical and scientific activities in genetics, cancer, disease prevention, and vaccines.

Categories: Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Alumni, Proven Everywhere, History, Bicentennial