1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Developer of birth control pill Djerassi dies

January 31, 2015

American chemist Carl Djerassi, one of the main developers of the birth control pill, has died at the age of 91 in San Francisco. He synthesized a female hormone that became the basis for oral contraceptives.

Wissenschaftler und Kunstmäzen Carl Djerassi 2013
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Rössler

The chemist Carl Djerassi was known for synthesizing progesterone, a female hormone in 1951 that is involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, a development that formed the basis for oral contraceptives for women.

On the basis of this scientific achievement, he helped develop the birth control pill in cooperation with the Boston pharmacologists Gregory Pincus and John Rock.

Djerassi also contributed to synthesizing the steroid hormone cortisone, paving the way for new kinds of medical treatment for various diseases.

Carl Djerassi was born in Vienna in 1923. He was the son of a Jewish Austrian-Bulgarian couple, both doctors. Because of his Jewish origin he was forced to flee Austria when it was annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938. Djerassi left for Bulgaria and then moved to the US, where he became an internationally renowned scientist and eventually professor emeritus at Stanford University.

Later in life, he also published poems, short stories, novels and plays. His first play, "An Immaculate Misconception" (1998), was translated into 12 languages and staged in the UK, the US, Germany, Austria, Japan and other countries.

As a famous art collector, Djerassi owned one of the most impressive collections of paintings by Paul Klee and gave about half of them to the Albertina museum in Vienna.

He died in San Francisco on Friday at the age of 91, according to a museum spokeswoman.

das/cmk (dpa, AFP)