Pitfalls in a Discovery: The Chronicle of Chloroquine

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  • Laboratory of Parasite Chemotherapy, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
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It is traditional in this Society that the President deliver an address at the annual banquet. In line with that tradition, I have chosen to discuss one facet of that patriarch of human disease—malaria. The facet I have selected is the chronicle of the antimalarial drug, chloroquine—a true story tinged with an element midway between romance and intrigue. In view of the recent public interest in drugs for human consumption, this story is timely; it has not been recounted before.

Practically all of the world's regular supply of quinine was denied to the Allies following the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. This was a most serious loss for it was apparent that a long war lay ahead and that much of it would have to be fought in highly malarious areas.

This country moved immediately to meet the emergency. The War Production Board (on April 4, 1942) issued Conversation Order M-131 which took quinine off the market and restricted its use almost completely to the treatment of malaria. At the same time, an appeal was made to those who held supplies of the alkaloid to deposit them with the War Production Board.