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Fourneau, Ernest

Fourneau, Ernest

(b. Biarritz, France, 4 October 1872; d. Ascain, France, 5 August 1949)


Of Spanish origin, Fourneau retained the appearance and elegant manner of that culture. His grandfather, the owner of a spinning mill, had established himself in France in the Basque country; his parents managed a large hotel in Biarritz. He received an excellent education; was fluent in English, German, and Spanish; and was interested in philosophy, literature, music, and painting, which he engaged in. He was also a brilliant conversationalist, owing to his education and to the cultivated circles that he frequented.

Following his secondary studies in Bayonne, he began studying pharmacy with Félix Moureu. in 1898 he obtained his diploma in Paris as a pharmacist; he then worked with the chemist Charles Moureu, brother of Félix. Having found his calling, he began to publish. In 1899 he commenced a three-year period of training in Germany under Theodor Curtius, Ludwig Gatterman, Emil Fischer (amino acids and barbiturate medications), and Richard Willstätter (chlorophyll.) A. witness to the birth of the German pharmaceutical industry, Fourneau returned to France and convinced the Poulenc brothers (Camille, Gaston, and Émile) of the necessity of creating a pharmaceutical chemistry laboratory. With the support of camille Poulenc, he became the director of a laboratory in the factory at Ivry-sur-Seine. A born chemist and dextrous experimenter, there he was able to develop his talents. In 1904 he discovered an anesthetic that he named stovaine, a translation of the word fourneau (“Stove”).

In 1911, Émile Roux was director of the Institut Pasteur. Always alert to scientific progress, he welcomed Fourneau into the Grande Maison and named him chief of the new therapeutic chemistry service, which rapidly became world famous. Fourneau surrounded himself with remarkable researchers: chemists, microbiologists, physiologists, and physicians, notably Jacques and Thérèse Tréfouël (in 1921), and Daniel Bovet and Frédéric Nitti (in 1931). The service became a center for chemotherapeutic research.

From his marriage in 1906 to the daughter of the surgeon Paul Segond, he had three sons; one also became a chemist and director of a pharmaceutical laboratory. Fourneau reached retirement age in 1942 but continued to work at the Institut Pasteur until 1946. The Rhône-Poulenc chemical company then offered him a laboratory in Paris, where he continued his work. He was secretary-general of the Société Chimique de France, to which he gave great stimulus by his constant interest in the École de Pharmacie. He was an officer of the Légion d’Honneur (1903), and many orders of other societies were conferred upon him. He was a member of the Académie de Medecine (1919) and of a number of other French and foreign academies.

During World War I Fourneau was entrusted by the ministries of war and munitions with the study of various topics for the general dispensary (Pharmacie Générale) of military hospitals; in 1939 he was a member of the army’s scientific commissions, and his laboratory was joined to the general staff.

Fourneau had lost his wife in 1942 at Ascain, to which he asked in 1949 to be transferred, being ill himself. Several days later, surrounded by his memorabilia, he passed away

Fourneau published more than two hundred books, articles, and lectures in collaboration with other researchers on amino alcohols and ethylene oxides (stovaine). A master of this material, he was entrusted with the important chapter (XII) on it in the Traite de chimie organique of Victor Grignard (1941). As early as 1910 he had summarized his investigations with enumerations and descriptions of amino alcohols, oxaminated acids, m-acetylamino p-oxyphenylarsenic acid or stovarsol (Fourneau 190), and its isomer tryparsamide (Fourneau 270). As a natural continuation of his work he turned to the alkaloids (the ephedrines). He then studied corysanthine (the lysocythin of cobra venom) and glycerine esters and investigated the separation and the quantitative analysis of bismuth. Later he studied the stereochemistry of arsenic compounds, synthetic antipaludics (antimalarials), antihistamine derivatives and spasmolytics, and sulfur derivatives. He determined the formula of suramin sodium (Fourneau 309, Bayer 205) and its antibacterial action. Next he turned to the sulfamides (with the Tréfouëls, Bovet, and Nitti) and to sulfamidotherapy.

With his broad vision, Fourneau helped to establish the fundamental laws of chemotherapy that have saved so many human lives.


I. Original Works. Fourneau’s writings include “Stovaine anesthésique local,” in Journal de pharmacie et de chimie, 6th ser., 20 (1904), 108–109; “Ephédrines synthétiques,” ibid., 20 (1904), 481–499, and 25 (1907), 593–640; Préparation des médicaments organiques (Paris, 1921); “Anesthésiques locaux. Acides oxyaminés,” in Bulletin de la Societe chimique de France, 4th ser., 29 (1921), 413–416; “Recherches de chimiotherapie dans la serie du 205 Bayer,” in Annales de l’Institut Pasteur, 38 (1924), 81–114, written with J. Tréfouël and J. Vallée; “Sur une nouvelle méthode de sensibilité extrême pour la recherche, la séparation et le dosage du bismuth,” in Competes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences, 181 (1925), 610–611, written with A. Girard; “Progrès récents dans le domaine des applications de la chimie à la therapeutique,” in Bulletin des sciences pharmacologiques35, nos. 8 and 9 (1928), 499–516; “Préparation de dérivés en vue d’essais therapeutiques; I, Amino alcools; II, Dérivés de l’atopian; III, Derives du carbostynyle; IV, Derives quinoleiniques et quiholeine arsinique,” in Annales de l’Institut Pasterur, 44 (1930). 719–751, written with J. and T. Trefouel and G. Benoit “Sur une nouvelle classe d’hypnotique,” in Journal de pharmacie et de chimie, 8 (19340, 49–54, written with J. R. Dilleter; “Chimiothérapie de l’infection pneumococcique par la di (p-acétylaminophenyl) sulfone,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Academie des sciences, 205 (1937), 299–300, written with J. and T. Tréfouël, F. Nitti, and D. Bovet: “L’évolution de la chimiothérapie anti-bactérienne,” in Annales de l’Institut Pasteur, 61 (1938), 799–811; “Quelques notions d’ordre chimique et rappel historique. L’antisepsie interne des maladies microbiennes par des dérivés du soufre,” in Gazette des hôpitaux civils et militaires, 112 no. 34 (19390, 577–581; “Aminolcools,” in Victor Grignard, Traité de chimie organique, XII (paris, 1941), 393–635; and “La muscarine,” in Annales pharmaceutiques fran÷aises, 1, no.3 (1944), 120.

II.Secondary Literature On Fourneau and his work, see M. Delepine, “Notice sur la vie et les travaux de Ernest Fourneau,” in Bulletin de la Société chimique de France, 5th ser., 17 (1950), 953–982; P. Deloncle, “La science au service de l’action coloniale. Le laboratoire de chimiothérapie de l’Institut Pasteur,” in La depêche coloniale (27 Feb. 1927); T. A. Henry, “Ernest Fourneau,” in Journal of the Chemical Society, 1 (1952), 261–266; R. Tioffeneau, “Ernest Fourneau,” in paris-Médical, 138 (1949), 470–471; J. Tréfouël, “Ernest Fourneau,” in Bulletin de la Societe de pathologie exotique, 42 (1949), 427–428; “Ernest Fourneau,” in Annales de l’Institut Pasteur, 77 (1949), 644–647; and “Ernest Fourneau,” in Bulletin de l’Académie nationale de médecine, 31–32 (1949), 589–595.

Denise Wrotnowska

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