Alex Last: BBC Witness History: The First Antipsychotic Drug


Hector Warnes’ comment


        On November 14, 2019, INHN posted an interview of Thomas Ban by Alex Last of the BBC regarding the history of the first antipsychotic drug (chlorpromazine-CPZ). This drug was first tested in France in 1951-1952 by Henri Laborit who later persuaded Pierre Deniker to use it for the treatment of psychotic excitement at the Saint Anne Hospital in Paris.

        As Thomas Ban noted it was first clinically used in 1951-52 at the Val de Grace Military Hospital in Paris where Henri Laborit worked as a surgeon adding that the first use of CPZ in a psychiatric patient was reported by Hamon, Paraire, and Velluz. Laborit in 1957 was granted the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award along with six other researchers for the introduction of reserpine and CPZ. For his observations and research Laborit was also a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. It was Laborit who first noted the clinical effects of the drug such as indifference, wakeful tranquility and disinterest during the use of the drug in anesthesia (hibernation artificial).

        Thomas Ban used this potent antipsychotic neuroleptic agent while still in Budapest in January 1955 in nine cases of psychotic illness including catatonic schizophrenia with mutism. His work in Budapest abruptly ended before the end of 1956 when a large Soviet force invaded Hungary.

        I agree with Thomas Ban that unlike Penicillin, CPZ treats the symptoms but not the cause of the illness. Ban refers to this effect as a palliative effect while Heinz Lehmann, one of the first psychiatrists who worked closely with Ban and who introduced the drug in Canada, called it a psychotostatic effect. Lehmann was also awarded the Lasker Award in 1957.

        I would also agree with Thomas Ban, who was my mentor in the search for new neuroleptics, that there is a pharmacological heterogeneity according to the diagnostic populations (which also has a heterogeneity of genomes ) to the point that pharmacogenetic testings tailored to individual phenotypes has been discovered.

        I would like Professor Ban to elaborate on the future of psychoneuropharmacology regarding the introduction of new compounds that may cure the illness just like an appropriate antibiotic cures an infection. Another question would be about the historical sequence or simultaneity of the introduction of antipsychotics in North and South America.


March 26, 2020