Chemistry societies in the United States and Mexico will designate the creation of the Mexican steroid industry an International Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony Dec. 2 in Mexico City. The ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Presidential Office of the Mexican Chemical Society, located at Barranca del Muerto #26, Col. Crédito Constructor, Delegación Benito Jurez, México, D.F.
The steroid industry grew out of American-born chemist Russell Marker's discovery of a way to mass-produce the hormone progesterone. Marker co-founded the Syntex, S.A. drug company in Mexico City, which produced steroid hormones. Marker's work later led to the wide availability of oral contraceptives and cortisone, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Marker's work and the Mexican steroid hormone industry drastically reduced the cost of synthesizing progesterone. By the 1950s, over half of the sex hormones sold in the United States were produced in Mexico, and could be traced to techniques devised by Marker. Using some of Marker's methods, Carl Djerassi developed the first oral contraceptive in 1951 at Syntex.
In 1938, Marker proposed a new molecular structure of the plant steroid sarsasapogenin, isolated from sarsparilla. He manipulated this structure, using a chemical reaction sequence known as "degradation," to yield progesterone. The process is now known as the Marker Degradation.
Marker dropped out of public life in the 1950s, re-emerging to accept awards from the Mexican Chemical Society in 1969 and the Chemical Congress of North America in 1975, among others. He created an endowed professorship and several endowed lecture series at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland before his death in 1995.
The inscription on the plaque to be presented to the Mexican Chemical Society by the American Chemical Society reads: