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This Pinoy Doctor Co-created Erythromycin But Was Never Compensated For It



Abelardo Aguilar is the Filipino physician and medical representative who co-created the drug Erythromycin (Ilosone®) from Iloilo soil.

In 1949, Filipino scientist Dr. Abelardo Aguilar sent his employer, Eli Lilly Co., samples of an antibiotic isolated from a soil that Aguilar collected in his home province of Iloilo, in central Philippines. Three years later, Eli Lilly sent a congratulatory letter to Aguilar promising to name the antibiotic “Ilosone” in honor of Iloilo province where the soil was originally collected. It was the first successful macrolide antibiotic introduced in the US in 1952. 

Its broad antimicrobial spectrum gave alternatives to patients showing allergic reactions to penicillin at that time. Preliminary tests and clinical trials proved that the said antibiotic was as effective as penicillin-like products without allergic manifestation and gastro-intestinal side-effects which are common to some other antibiotics. Oral administration is effective in one hour and the drug is detectable in the bloodstream for eight hours.

Erythromycin treats bacterial infections, respiratory tract infections like pneumonia, urinary tract infection, ear and skin infections, gonorrhea, syphilis, rheumatic fever, whooping cough and diptheria - as billions poured in to said company.

The drug erythromycin, sold under the brand name Ilosone, has earned Eli Lilly billions of dollars, but neither Aguilar nor the Philippine government received any royalty. In 1993, Aguilar died after spending 40 years to be recognized and rewarded, but to no avail.

Aguilar tried to seek compensation from Eli Lilly and even asked his only daughter, Maria Elena Aguilar-Paguntalan, to continue his fight for a well-deserved recognition and compensation. He asked for a USD 500,000,000 royalty from Eli Lilly Co. which he would've put into good cause like helping the poor and sickly countrymen. He planned on putting up a foundation for them. His wishes, however, were not granted.

In 1994, the national media took interest in the matter. Exchanges were made to and from the Office of then Senator Juan Flavier and Paguntalan that showed personal follow-ups to the office of Eli Lilly. Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) journalist Bobby Timonera came up with series of articles alongside the column of Conrado de Quiros “Greed”. Said articles eventually prompted a response from Filipino officials of Eli Lilly.

In 1 December 1995, Paguntalan got a response from John North, Director of Eli Lilly's International Corporate Affairs. It said, “no company employee involved with research and development of any compound, regardless of where they are employed in our global organization receives royalties or compensation for that work beyond his or her salary and benefits. This policy was in effect during the time your father was an employee of our company and it is still in effect today.”

It was learned, however, from former Eli Lilly employees that Aguilar was allegedly forced to resign by the company district manager or he'd get fired for various reasons. Also, the company allegedly discriminates against colored people.


Aguilar's daughter lives on hoping that in every pill of erthromycin that brings cure to the sick, her father gains the kind of recognition he failed to secure in his lifetime. 

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