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Sealed glass tube of Arsphenamine, ‘Salvarsan 606’, Europe, 1910 -1930

This yellow powder is known today as Arsphenamine. It was a revolutionary drug that came onto the market in 1910 to treat the sexually transmitted infection (STI), syphilis. It was the first truly effective anti-syphillitic drug as previous mercury-based cures often did more harm than good. It was discovered by German scientist Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) and was originally known as Salvarsan 606. This sealed glass tube contains a sample of Salvarsan 606 prepared to Ehrlich’s original method. It is shown with an illustration of its chemical make-up. Salvarsan 606 is an arsenic-based compound and was known as 606 because it was the 606th compound tested in Ehrlich’s laboratories. The name Salvarsan was chosen before going into large-scale manufacture by Hoechst Chemical Works in Germany.

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Glossary: syphilis

A sexually transmitted infection resulting in the formation of lesions throughout the body.

Glossary: phial

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