Taking up the cudgels for a deprived Ilonggo drug discoverer

IN 2011, this corner echoed the  unfulfilled claim of a friend, the late Dr. Abelardo

Aguilar, who had fought for a multi-million-dollar royalty from a multinational drug company for his discovery of the antibiotic erythromycin.

But even now in his grave,  the “doc” seems to be still crying out for what his family might still claim from Eli Lilly International Corporation at Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a stranger who identified himself as Marco Siy,

a grade 9 student from the British School Manila with the e-mail address marco.siy@britishschoolmanila.org. A portion of his letter follows:

“My  group has been preparing for an international history event in Singapore called National History Day.  The topic we have chosen to exhibit on is Dr. Abelardo Aguilar and his discovery of erythromycin. Over the course of our research, we came across your article about Dr. Aguilar. We want to interview you and Ms. Maria Elena Aguilar-Paguntalan, the daughter of Dr. Aguilar.”

In his second e-mail, the young man expressed stronger desire for more valuable documentation – such as pictures, letters, testimonials — on Aguilar because, should they win the Singapore event on March 9, they would proceed to Washington D.C. for the final stage that would pit them against other finalists from around the world sometime in June 2019.

By winning both events, they would certainly revive before world attention the now forgotten frustration of the Filipino doctor who discovered the antibiotic erythromycin, launched by Eli Lilly in 1952 under the brand name Ilosone in honor of Iloilo City – heralded in medical journals as “the alternative for penicillin-allergic patients.”

In 1991 or two years before he died at age 76, I met Dr. Aguilar personally for the first time when I joined the sales force of High Desert, a food-supplement distributor where he was serving as medical consultant for Iloilo City. He was no longer in the pink of health.

I thought he might have retired long ago had he been rewarded with the US $500-million royalty he had been fighting for but to no avail. But that’s going ahead of the story.

It all began in 1949 when he submitted his discovery, fungi extracted from soil at the back of the cemetery in Molo, Iloilo City, to the Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly International Corporation, which had been on the look-out for new antibiotics.  Aguilar was then Eli Lilly detail man in Iloilo City.

To make the long story short, the company found the synthesized fungi effective for treatment of bacterial infections of the respiratory tract, urinary tract, ear and skin, gonorrhea, syphilis, rheumatic fever, whooping cough and diphtheria. Branded Ilosone, erythromycin easily passed the standard for antibiotics required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States in 1952.

Touted at that time as “miracle drug,” Ilosone earned for Dr. Aguilar a promise made by one of Eli Lilly’s executives in 1956 for a trip to the Indianapolis head office, where he could discuss royalty claim.

In 1992 or 40 years after discovery of erythromycin, Dr. Aguilar had not yet made that trip and  was still writing letters to a succession of company presidents for his royalty. Refusing to give up, he sought the intercession of then  Health Secretary Juan Flavier.

Dr. Abelardo Aguilar died a poor man in September 1993 without receiving his royalty which he thought had accumulated to $500 million.

Going back to the nine-year old kid Marco Siy,  will anybody help him get in touch with Elena Aguilar-Paguntalan, the daughter of Dr. Aguilar who is believed to be residing in Dumangas, Iloilo? (hvego31@gmail.com/PN)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here