Karl Meyer

Columbia University

September 4, 1899 - May 18, 1990

Scientific Discipline: Biochemistry
Membership Type:
Emeritus (elected 1967)

Medical researcher Karl H. Beyer, Jr.’s forty years of drug research revolutionized modern pharmacology and physiology. He contributed to the discovery of thiazide diuretics (primarily chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide), a series of drugs that successfully treated congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, hypertension, liver disease, and kidney disease. Beyer was largely responsible for the development of probenecid, which was not only capable of preserving the limited supply of penicillin, but was also the first universally accepted uricosuric therapy for gout. His research led to the discovery of the high-ceiling diuretic, ethacrynic acid, which allowed for the management of edemas that were formerly intractable to drug treatment. Beyer also held over twenty patents for his compound, PZG, which proved to be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and renal insufficiency.    

Beyer earned his BS in chemistry and biology from Western Kentucky State College in in 1935, and he remained at the college as an instructor of chemistry until 1936. He then attended the University of Wisconsin where he taught medical physiology (1939-1943) and received his PhM, his PhD (physiology), and his MD in 1937, 1940 and 1943, respectively. He accepted a position as assistant director of pharmacological research at Sharp & Dohme the same year as his graduation, and was promoted to the director of the division the following year. He continued to rise through the company’s ranks with titles such as the Vice President for Life Sciences at the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories (1958-1966), the President of Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research (1961-1966), and finally, the Senior Vice President for Research at the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories (1966-1973). Beyer was a member of more than 20 scientific societies and received a long list of impressive awards, including the Albert Lasker Award in 1974, the Torald Sollman Award from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in 1978, and the Drug Discoverers Award from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association in 1988.

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