Man behind the pill dies

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It was not the first contraceptive pill, but Organon’s Lyndiol pill became a worldwide success in the 1960s. The breakthrough gave the drugs company, now known as MSD, a leading role in the field of anti-conception. On Thursday, Max de Winter, one of the pill’s three developers died.

Max de Winter, a Jewish Dutch chemist survived Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The Germans put him to work in a Siemens factory because of his technical knowledge. After the war, he started working for the drugs company Organon based in the town of Oss in the southern Dutch province of Brabant. The company had suffered harshly under Nazi occupation because of its mainly Jewish management and largely Jewish workforce.

Organon was set up in the 1920s as part of an abattoir. Insulin was extracted from the pancreas and later oestrogen, which increases fertility, was also taken from horses’ ovaries. The hormone was used to produce a pill called Ovarnon.

“The pill” was a logical step for Organon in the development of fertility treatment in the 1960s. But in the mainly Catholic Brabant it was controversial. The Catholic church opposed anti-conception altogether. Staff opposition was so great at first, that another company was used to package the pills. In Belgium, which is also largely Catholic, Lyndiol was initially described as a therapy to regulate menstruation.

Sexual revolution
Former Organon employee Johannes van der Vies worked with Mr De Winter for many decades. He says that the patent for the active ingredient in Lyndiol, lynestrenol, was submitted back in 1955 already. It was a so-called progestational substance. “We knew that it inhibited ovulation. So we knew we were onto something important.”

Health professor Ivan Wolffers says the pill paid a huge role in the sexual revolution and the emancipation of women. “More attention could be paid to the more pleasant sides of sexuality. This came at the same time as the development of an American lifestyle in Europe and other parts of the world. Sex played a larger role in films. I don’t know if the pill would have had the same effect if it had been introduced 20 years earlier.”

It soon turned out that the pill also had health disadvantages, like the risk of thrombosis. As a result, the composition of the pill has been changed a number of times.

Max de Winter died at the age of 91. His children say he was a man full of “love, wisdom, zest for life and humanity in spite of his personal history.”