On 19 July 1842, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier (1788–1842) passed away in Paris, France. He was a French chemist who isolated quinine and helped found the chemistry of alkaloids. Pelletier was professor at the School of Pharmacy, Paris, and, from 1832, director. In 1817, in collaboration with the chemist Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou (1795–1877), he isolated chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that is essential to the process of photosynthesis.
He was also one of the pioneers of the study of plant alkaloid chemistry. Alkaloids are organic compounds that induce various effects in medicine, including painkillers and respiratory stimulants. Together with and Joseph Caventou (1795–1877), a student of pharmacy, they set up to solve the mystery of “cinchona bark.”
From the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (March 2015): “In 1817, they tackled the problem that had baffled scientists for decades- wrestling the secrets of Peruvian barks that were so useful in malaria. After sweating out for months they isolated from the yellow bark, a sticky, pale yellow gum that could not be induced to crystallise. The gum was soluble in acid, alcohol, and ether and highly effective in malaria. The two men named the new chemical quinine after quinaquina the name given by Peruvian Indians to the bark. The announcement was made in 1820. Caventou and Pelletier prepared pure salts of quinine, had them tested clinically, and set up manufacturing facilities. They refused any profit from their discovery. Instead of patenting the extraction process they published the method of separation of quinine and cinchonine from the cinchona barks so that anyone could manufacture quinine. They received many honours; the most lucrative was Prix Monthyon of 10 thousand Francs awarded by the French Institute of Science.”
They also discovered brucine, strychnine, and veratrine. Some of these compounds soon found medicinal uses. Such applications marked the beginning of the gradual shift away from the use of crude plant extracts and toward the use of natural and synthetic compounds found in nature or formulated by the chemist. In 1823 Pelletier published analyses of several alkaloids, thus providing a basis for alkaloid chemistry. He did further important studies of other compounds, including caffeine, piperine, and picrotoxin.
From Catholic Encyclopedia (1911): “He had five children with his first wife, Aglae-Genevieve Vergez, who died in 1830. He remarried on December 1832 with Esther Courtin. As his colleague Augustin-Louis Cauchy testifies, Pelletier was a convinced Catholic.”
—Pai-Dhungat, JV. “Caventou, Pelletier & – History Of Quinine.” Journal of the Association of Physicians of India • Vol 63 • March, 2015. Download.
—Dr BS Kakkilaya, “Saga of Malaria Treatment.” Malaria: History
—Georges Dillemann, La vie de Joseph Pelletier, Revue d’Histoire de la Pharmacie Année 1989. Vol. 281-282 pp. 128-134.
—Sloane, Thomas O’Conor. “Pierre-Joseph Pelletier.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1911). Image: online.