Abelardo Aguilar, a Filipino scientist, sent some soil samples to his employer Eli Lilly in 1949. Eli Lilly’s research team, led by J. M. McGuire, managed to isolate Erythromycin from the metabolic products of a strain of Streptomyces erythreus (designation changed to “Saccharopolyspora erythraea”) found in the samples.
Lilly filed for patent protection of the compound and U.S. patent 2,653,899 was granted in 1953. The product was launched commercially in 1952 under the brand name Ilosone (after the Philippine region of Iloilo where it was originally collected from). Erythromycin was formerly also called Ilotycin.
In 1981, Nobel laureate (1965 in chemistry) and Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) Robert B. Woodward, along with a large number of members from his research group, posthumously reported the first stereocontrolled asymmetric chemical synthesis of Erythromycin A.
The antibiotic clarithromycin was invented by scientists at the Japanese drug company Taisho Pharmaceutical in the 1970s as a result of their efforts to overcome the acid instability of erythromycin.
Scientists at Chugai Pharmaceuticals discovered an erythromycin-derived motilin agonist called Mitemcinal that is believed to have strong prokinetic properties (similar to erythromycin,) but lacking antibiotic properties. Presently, erythromycin is commonly used off-label for gastric motility indications such as gastroparesis. If Mitemcinal can be shown to be as effective a prokinetic agent, it would represent a significant advance in the GI field as treatment with this drug would not carry the risk of unintentional selection for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Erythromycin is a macrolide antibiotic that has an antimicrobial spectrum similar to or slightly wider than that of penicillin, and is often used for people who have an allergy to penicillins. For respiratory tract infections, it has better coverage of atypical organisms, including mycoplasma and Legionellosis. It was first marketed by Eli Lilly and Company, and it is today commonly known as EES (erythromycin ethylsuccinate, an ester prodrug that is commonly administered).