On 14 August 1915, Hans Lundbeck founded a company in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first employee that he hired, a young lady who was a multiannual Danish champion in typewriting, later became his wife and founder of the Lundbeck Foundation.
Victims of the First World War provided neurologists with an unmatched, if unwanted, research opportunity. By observing physical and psychological dysfunctions caused by war injuries, neurologists were able to link sub-departments of our central nervous system with specific abilities. In 1917, Julius Wagner Ritter von Jauregg described the first clausal, psychiatric treatment solution when he discovered the malaria inoculation treatment of paralytic dementia.
In 1920, Otto Loewi performed the first experiment proving that nerve transmission is a chemical process. In 1922, schizophrenic patients started to be treated with Somnifen-Dauerschlaf therapy. Patients were given large doses of Somnifen (a barbiturate drug), making them sleep all day long for two-three weeks at a time.
During its first years, the business operated as a trading company, but from the mid-1920s, pharmaceuticals of all sorts were added to its range of products.
In the 1930s, Lundbeck began its own production and packaging of pharmaceuticals in Denmark. A growing production volume created a need for more space and additional employees. Lundbeck embarked on its journey of growth.
In 1929, Hans Berger demonstrated the first human electroencephalograph (EEG), an instrument for measuring and recording the electrical activity of the brain. Berger’s invention is now used routinely as a diagnostic test in neurology and psychiatry, and as a common tool in brain research. In 1933, Manfred Sakel reported his first experimental findings, testing the efficacy of insulin-shock treatment on schizophrenic patients in Berlin, Germany. In development were somatic treatments for mental illness, such as electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery. These treatments were based on the biological model of mental pathology
that assumes mental illness is the result of a biological imbalance in
the body and can be compared to physical diseases.
During the 1930s, with his colleague Herbert Jasper, Wilder Penfield invented the Montreal procedure through which he treated patients with severe epilepsy by destroying nerve cells in the brain where the seizures originated. Before operating, he stimulated the brain with electrical probes while the patients were conscious on the operating table (under only local anaesthesia), and observed their responses. In this way, he could more accurately target the areas of the brain responsible, reducing the side-effects of the surgery. This procedure is still used with success today.
In 1937, Lundbeck hired its first scientific employee, the pharmacist, Oluf Hübner, who brought with him additional pharmaceutical products and initiated Lundbeck’s early dialogue with physicians.
In 1935, Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, performed the world’s first lobotomy. In the years that followed, Walter Freeman and James W. Watts completed the first lobotomies in the US. The intended purpose of the lobotomy was to calm uncontrollably violent or emotional patients, and it did – at first – prove to be successful. However, aside from a twenty-five percent death rate, lobotomies also resulted in patients that were unable to control their impulses, were unnaturally calm and shallow and/or exhibited a total absence of feeling. The use of the practice decreased with the introduction of psychoactive drugs. In 1949, Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize for his work.
In 1936, Italian physicians Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini administered the first shock therapy using electricity on a schizophrenic patient and received successful results. This treatment soon became widespread and was used most often in the US and Europe. Despite previous instances of abuse, this treatment is still used with success today, albeit with significant reforms. In 1937, H. Houston Merritt and Tracy J. Putnam described their remarkable results using phenytoin to treat major absence and psychic equivalent seizures (epilepsy).
During the years following World War II, Lundbeck intensified its research, laying the foundation stone for the drugs which would later make Lundbeck world famous.
Walter Rudolf Hess, a Swiss physiologist, won the Nobel Prize in 1949 for mapping the areas of the brain involved in the control of internal organs. Hess used brain stimulation techniques that were developed in the late 1920s, using electrodes to stimulate the brain at well-defined anatomical regions. This allowed him to map regions of the brain to specific physiological responses. By stimulating the hypothalamus, he could induce behaviours from excitement to apathy; depending on the region of stimulation.
Also in 1949, Australian psychiatrist, J.F.J Cade, introduced the psychotropic drug Lithium, and the era of psychopharmacology took off. A series of successful antipsychotic drugs were introduced in the 1950s that did not cure psychosis but were able to control its symptoms. In 1952, chlorpromazine (commonly known as Thorazine) was introduced as the first of the antipsychotic medications, discovered in France.
In 1959, Lundbeck launched Truxal® – one of the first antipsychotics in the world, which through the 1960s and 1970s became Lundbeck’s most sold product – a new era in antipsychotics for Lundbeck had begun.
Imipramine was, in the late 1950s, the first tricyclic antidepressant to be developed. In September 1958, at the first international congress of neuropharmacology in Rome, Italy, Dr. Freyhan, from the University of Pennsylvania, US, was one of the first clinicians to discuss the effects of imipramine in a group of 46 patients, most of whom were diagnosed with ‘depressive psychosis’.
The patients were selected for this study based on symptoms such as depressive apathy, kinetic retardation and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Between 1960 and 1970, the number of employees doubled to 680, of whom approximately 100 were employed abroad. Lundbeck was becoming an international company.
During the course of the 1970s, the development of new scanning technologies suddenly allowed doctors and researchers to have a closer look into the brain without opening up the skull. In 1972, G. N. Hounsfield of EMI Limited of London, England, produced the first prototype of a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan. American physician and scientist, Raymond Damadian, created the world’s first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine while researching the analytical properties of magnetic resonance.
In 1974, M. E. Phelps, E. J. Hoffman and M. M. Ter Pogossian developed the first positron emission topography (PET) scanner, a machine that provides visual information about the activity of the brain. Doctors use PET scans to monitor such things as blood flow and oxygen utilization in the brain.
After 60 years of growth and development based on a wide assortment of products, Lundbeck decided at the end of the 1970s to phase out its existing agencies and cosmetics departments and focus on the development and commercialization of pharmaceuticals.
Lundbeck expanded rapidly in the 1990s, due to the success of Cipramil®. Cipramil® was registered in more than 70 countries for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
By Lundbeck’s 75th anniversary in 1990, revenue amounted to DKK 0.5 billion and 8 affiliates had been established. There were 739 employees, 189 of whom were employed overseas.
At the start of the 1990s, US President, George H. W. Bush, declared the decade the “Decade of the Brain”, emphasizing the political focus that diseases related to the brain were starting to get. In 1993, the gene responsible for Huntington’s disease was identified. In 1994, Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell shared the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the protein group in human cells named G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and their role in signal transduction.
Due to their physiological and pathophysiological relevance, GPCRs would become very successful targets for a large part of modern medicines. In 1995, the first effective intervention for a stroke in progress was demonstrated by Dr. John R. Marler and colleagues.
To ensure its continued success, Lundbeck intensified its research activities and began in-licensing drugs from other pharmaceutical companies. This enabled Lundbeck to launch new drugs to take over when the patents on other drugs expired.
In 2008, Lundbeck embarked on a new strategic growth journey, moving from a mainly European company to a global company, expanding into new, international markets.
In 2013, Ernst Bamberg et al. won the Brain Prize from the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation for their invention and refinement of optogenetics.
The revolutionary technique allows genetically specified populations of neurons to be turned on or off with light, offering not only the ability to elucidate the characteristics of normal and abnormal neural circuitry, but also new approaches to the treatment of brain disease.
In 2018, Deborah Dunsire was named President and CEO of Lundbeck, and six months later she launched Lundbeck’s new 2020 Strategy “Expand and Invest to Grow”, which focuses on restoring brain health to drive Lundbeck’s growth.
Lundbeck started the new decade by launching eptinezumab under the brand name Vyepti® for the preventive treatment of migraine in the US.
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Partnerships are a key pillar in our strategy to become leaders in brain health.