100 years since the publication of the suramin formula

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Suramin was the first drug developed using the approach of medicinal chemistry by the German Bayer company in the 1910s for the treatment of human African sleeping sickness caused by the two subspecies Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesienese. However, the drug was politically instrumentalized by the German government in the 1920s in an attempt to regain possession of its former African colonies lost after the First World War. For this reason, the formula of suramin was kept secret for more than 10 years. Eventually, the French pharmacist Ernest Fourneau uncovered the chemical structure of suramin by reverse engineering and published the formula of the drug in 1924. During the Nazi period, suramin became the subject of colonial revisionism, and the development of the drug was portrayed in books and films to promote national socialist propaganda. Ever since its discovery, suramin has also been tested for bioactivity against numerous other infections and diseases. However, sleeping sickness caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense is the only human disease for which treatment with suramin is currently approved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Number of pages7
JournalParasitology Research
Early online date7 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Colonial revisionism
  • Political instrumentalization
  • Sleeping sickness
  • Suramin

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