Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 27, 1976 · Page 113
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 113

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 27, 1976
Page 113
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Dr. Leo Stembach and wife Herta in yard of Montdair, N.J., home. He sold Valium patent for 57 to employer, Ho'ffmann-La Roche, has no regrets. Tte Man Wto hvBDteilValiiiiii MONTCLAIR, N.J. T he most widely prescribed medicine in the world today is-Valium, a tranquilizer which sells for 10 cents per pill and up. Last year American doctors wrote a staggering total of 60 million prescriptions for Valium. This year alone an estimated 500 billion Valium tablets will be consumed throughout the world. Hoffmann-La Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company which manufactures the drug---its American branch is located in Nutley, N. J.--will gross approximately half a billion on its sales of Valium and its predecessor, Librium. But the medicinal chemist, Leo Henryk Sternbach, 68, who invented both drugs, sold the patent for each to Hoffmann-La Roche at $1 per drug. A mild-mannered, soft-speaking, white-haired scientist, Dr. Sternbach is quick to allay the suspicion that the company has exploited or taken ad- by Lloyd Shearer vantage of him. "My signing away the patents at a dollar each--that was only a symbolic or legal move. "I've been with the company some 35 years," he explains, "and they've paid me bonuses and royalties and now a very handsome retirement [an estimated $60,000 per year] as a consultant. They paid for all my trips and conventions. I still go to my office and have use of all the lab facilities. Denies exploitation "I am not," he asserts, a small smile flickering across his bespectacled face, "a victim of capitalistic exploitation. If anything, I am an example of capitalistic enlightenment." Leo Henryk Sternbach was born on May 7, 1908, in Abbazia, Austria, now a part of Yugoslavia. His father, Michael, was a pharmacist from Poland, and his mother a housewife originally from Hungary. Young Leo was reared and educated in Austrian schools until he was 16. The Sternbachs then moved back to Poland. "I was always interested in chemistry. My greatest happiness, my biggest adventures, have always been in the laboratory. In Cracow I attended the Gagillonian University where I studied pharmacy. And during the summer vacations I worked in my father's pharmacy. My whole life, most of my whole life, has been submerged in chemistry." Sternbach earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1931 and stayed on as a teaching assistant at the University of Cracow until 1937. A colleague, Dr. Joseph Hellerbach, who remembers him from those days, recalls Sternbach as "a chemist possessed who worked all hours on a variety of projects, running from one set of flasks to another. No one but Leo knew what was in any of them. And he was obsessed by the process of crystallization.'It crystallizes so beautifully.' That was perhaps his most pleasurable statement." In Cracow the young chemist worked industriously with a series of hetero- cyclic compounds, trying to crystallize various substances that could be used in the dye industry. But while these crystallized beautifully, they produced no usable dyes. Years later Sternbach was to repeat several of these experiments to produce tranquilizers. In 1937, however, with Hitler in Germany denouncing Poles and Jews as subhumans, Sternbach, then 29, decided to emigrate to Switzerland. His parents refused to leave Cracow. Two years later, when the Germans invaded Poland, his mother survived only because the members of a Catholic family succeeded in keeping her hidden year after year. At top Zurich school In Zurich, on a post-doctoral grant, Leo Sternbach worked at the Eid- genossische Technische Hochschule, Switzerland's equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under Leopold Ruzicka, who in 1939 won the Nobel Prize for his research in the field of sex hormones. Sternbach was then 33, a bachelor, a doctor, a pharmacist, a chemist earning $60 a month and trying to make both ends meet by renting a room in the pension of Mrs. Maria Kreuzer. As frequently happens in such cases, Mrs. Kreuzer had a beautiful young daughter, Herta, with whom Sternbach

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