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The Upjohn Company was a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm founded in 1886 in Kalamazoo, Michigan by Dr. William E. Upjohn, an 1875 graduate of the University of Michigan medical school. The company was originally formed to make friable pills, which were specifically designed to be easily digested. These could be "reduced to a powder under the thumb", a strong marketing argument for the time.
In 1995, Upjohn merged with Pharmacia AB, to form Pharmacia & Upjohn. Later the company merged with Monsanto Company and took the name Pharmacia; the company retained Monsanto's Searle drug unit and spun off the remaining interests, which became the "new Monsanto". Today the remainder of Upjohn is owned by Pfizer. Kalamazoo county retains major manufacturing capabilities as well as a large stake in Pfizer's animal health business. In 1997, Pharmacia & Upjohn sold several brands to Johnson & Johnson, including Motrin and Cortaid.
Upjohn developed a process for the large scale production of cortisone. The oxygen atom at the 11 position in this steroid is an absolute requirement for biological activity. There are however no known natural sources for starting materials that contain that feature. The only method for preparing this drug prior to 1952 was a lengthy synthesis starting from cholic acid isolated from bile. In 1952 two Upjohn biochemists, Dury Peterson and Herb Murray announced that they were able to introduce this crucial oxygen atom by fermentation of the steroid progesterone with a common mold of the genus Rhizopus. Over the next several years a group of chemists headed by John Hogg developed a process for preparing cortisone from the soybean sterol stigmasterol. The microbiological oxygenation is a key step in this process.
Subsequently, Upjohn together with Schering biochemically converted cortisone into the more potent steroid prednisone by a bacterial fermentation In chemical research, the company is best known for the development of the Upjohn dihydroxylation by V. VanRheenen, R. C. Kelly and D. Y. Cha in 1976. Upjohn's most well-known drugs before the acquisition by Pfizer were Xanax, Halcion, Motrin, Lincocin(trademark), and Rogaine.