The 96-year-old scientist who came up with the idea for the "Contraceptive Pill" - Liberty

Friday, October 6, 2023

The 96-year-old scientist who came up with the idea for the "Contraceptive Pill"


In a 1990 book, Dr. Etienne-Emile Beaulieu hopes that by the 21st century, "paradoxically, 'abortion drugs' may help eliminate abortion as a problem." Please write that I am here. Julie Glasberg.

When Dr. Etienne-Emile Beaulieu came up with this idea about 50 years ago, he believed it would be revolutionary. He believes that creating a pill that can terminate a pregnancy could transform reproductive health care by enabling women to avoid surgery, act faster and make more personal decisions. thinking about. I believed

Dr. Beaulieu, a 96-year-old French endocrinologist and biochemist often called the father of abortion drugs, said on a recent Sunday afternoon at his apartment in the 100-year-old building: when it fits.

As he wrote in a 1990 book, he also hoped that by the 21st century, "paradoxically, 'abortion drugs' may help eliminate abortion as a problem."

That prospect looks more distant than ever, especially in the United States. Not only has abortion been highly controversial since the Dr. Beaulieu-led pill mifepristone was approved in the United States in 2000, but last year's Supreme Court decision to end federal abortion rights has led to this. The problem was brought to light. were divided about

But as time passed, some of Dr. Beaulieu's other wishes came true. That rate is also expected to rise in states that have banned abortion, and increased use has put the pill at the center of legal and political battles.

The office of Dr. Beaulieu, who continues his research at a laboratory in the south of Paris, overlooks the former psychiatric hospital where the Marquis de Sade was held. He picked up a gun as a teenager in the French resistance during World War II, changed his name, and took refuge high in the Alps. He joined the Communist Party and left it after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. In the 1960s, he befriended painters, sculptors, musicians, and actors, and met artists such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.

Dr. Beaulieu continues to work in the laboratory of the Kremlin Bicètre Hospital on the southern tip of Paris. Julie Glasberg.

Mifepristone is usually followed by misoprostol and is now used in more than half of all abortions in the United States. Gabriella Bhaskar.

This work has earned Dr. Beaulieu many scientific honors, including the Lasker Award, often considered the most prestigious award in the US medical community. French President Emmanuel Macron recently awarded him the highest honor, the Legion of Honor. His admirers nominated him for the Nobel Prize.

For his leading role in the development of mifepristone, he was hailed as a visionary by abortion rights advocates and denigrated as Hitler incarnate by abortion opponents.

He and Pill have become lightning rods, but Dr. Beaulieu recognizes the issue's complexity and is outspoken about the abortion controversy.

"He's very relaxed when he believes in something," says Simone Harari Beaulieu, his romantic partner of more than 25 years, who became his second wife in 2016. I got

I have a medical degree and a Ph.D. In biochemistry, Dr. Baulieu has always considered himself a 'physician practicing science', looking for ways to translate his research into valuable applications.

Scientifically and medically, "women are poorly understood," he said, adding, "I like women. Why?"

Continued Independence

Dr. Beaulieu's office is a jumble of memorabilia, papers, books, art, and chalkboards sketching out how the brain processes memories. Julie Glasberg.

The home Dr. Beaulieu shares with his wife, who owns a film and television production company, is filled with eclectic relics.

In a portrait by photographer Richard Avedon, Dr. Beaulieu wears a black turtleneck and holds a small white pill. A surrealist painting of him and Ms. It hangs above the fireplace.

The shelves are full of books. The history of "Old Shanghai". Excerpt from Proust. More books are stacked on the parquet floor in the living room near a window overlooking a narrow balcony edged with decorative iron railings.

Two recent gifts from Vice President Kamala Harris are on the dining room table. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher who worked in Dr. Beaulieu's lab for about a year in the 1980s, collaborating with him on estrogen and mammary protein research. (She didn't deal with abortion pills.)

During his official visit to France in 2021, the Vice President met Dr. Beaulieu and his wife. She gave them a glass bowl and a French translation of her book. love, Kamala. At President Macron's luncheon in Washington last month, Mr. Harris referred to work his mother had done with "the legendary French professor Beaulieu."

Dr. Beaulieu's instinct for innovation may come from his father, Dr. Leon Bloom. Dr. Leon Bloom was one of the first physicians to use insulin for diabetics. He was a nephrologist who treated the diabetes of the Egyptian king during his honeymoon with Dr. Beaulieu's mother.

Originally from German-occupied Alsace during World War I, Dr. Blum was drafted into the German army. But he secretly helped the French, asking the German officers he corresponded with to send them postcards about how much urine they were producing. bottom. Ultimately, he fled to France, where he was awarded the Legion of Honor.

He died at 54 when his son Etienne Bloom was three years old. Etienne's mother, Thérèse Lyon, a lawyer, and conservatory-trained pianist, moved her three children to Paris.

"She believed my father had died due to contamination by the sick," said Dr. Beaulieu. She told him he could do whatever he wanted, except be a doctor. "And my only option was to become a doctor," he said.

A photo in Dr. Beaulieu's office shows his father (left), nephrologist Leon Bloom, and his mother Thérèse Lyon, a lawyer and pianist. Julie Glasberg.

Max-Fernand Jayle, who studied hormonal processes in women, was Dr. Baulieu's mentor and gave him the opportunity early in his career. Julie Glasberg.

But his independent streak was honed long before that. During World War II, his family fled German-occupied Paris to Grenoble. When he was 15, he and a classmate distributed anti-Nazi leaflets and criticized "people who worked for Germany." Did. I threw stones," he said.

Two years later, while in a café, he noticed a man lurking outside and realized that he had been "found by the Germans." He left town without even saying goodbye to his mother.

When he joined members of the French Resistance in the alpine towns of Chamonix and Annecy, they offered him a name change and gave him several options, including "Beaulieu", which means "beautiful place". was provided. He liked it but felt that adopting "beautiful" as a name was exaggerated.

His group's activities included carrying weapons, kidnappings, and executing imprisoned Vichy officials.

"I was too young to shoot," said Dr. Beaulieu.

Like his fellow French Resistance members, he joined the Communist Party but declined membership after the war. Instead, he went to medical school.

He joins the lab of Max Fernando Jail, a scientist who went blind during an experiment. Dr. Jayle would be a career stalemate but found Dr. Jayle exciting and original.

Dr. Jayle, who studied hormonal processes in women, was an encouraging mentor and at the age of 31 gave Dr. Beaulieu the advanced opportunity to become a tenured professor.

In an important early discovery that many scientists missed, Dr. Beaulieu determined how to detect the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA. DHEA helps produce estrogen and testosterone, which are indicators of diseases such as adrenal cancer.

Vice President Kamala Harris presented Dr. Beaulieu with a bowl featuring the Vice President's coat of arms. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher who worked in Dr. Beaulieu's lab for about a year in the 1980s. Pam Belluck.

A sculpture called "Nana" is in Dr. Beaulieu's office. Niki de Saint Phalle on the left, Jean Tinguely on the right. Julie Glasberg.

As a result, I was invited to spend a year at Columbia University with Dr. Seymour Lieberman, a steroid expert. However, because of Dr. Beaulieu's former Communist Party affiliation, the Eisenhower administration repeatedly denied his visa application after John F. Kennedy became president, despite pleas from fellow scientists.

In 1961, on board a ship bound for New York, Dr. Beaulieu met the eminent art historian Barbara Rose. Mr. Johns, Mr. Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg.

“From an artist friend, I noticed similarities between science and art creation,” writes Dr. Beaulieu.

His admiration for creative people continued, leading to close friendships and occasional romances. Built, built under. "I knew many beautiful, interesting, intelligent, free women," he said.

One relationship was with Niki de Saint Phalle, who exhibits colorful paintings and sculptures in his home and laboratory. In the late 1970s, at the home of conductor Herbert von Karajan on the Côte d'Azur, Dr. Beaulieu met actress Sophia Loren. The two were married to different people but said they were in a romantic relationship. Paddy field. Said. At one point they were filmed in a car. The relationship ended because she wanted to focus on raising her children and maintaining her marriage. A representative for Lauren declined to answer questions. gain.

"Infertility Drug"

Dr. Beaulieu was on abortion pills in 1984. Arnaud Borrel/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Dr. Beaulieu's journey to develop an abortion drug began in 1961 when he was invited to speak by Gregory Pincus, who helped invent the contraceptive.

"When I saw what they were doing in Puerto Rico, the treatment of women was eye-opening," said Dr. Beaulieu.

Back in Paris, Dr. Beaulieu, who was leading a unit at the French National Institute of Hygiene and Medicine, turned down an offer to become research director for the pharmaceutical company Roussel Uclaf but was offered a part-time consultant. rice field. I agree with you. The arrangement allowed him to use several company laboratories and molecules in his research but prohibited him from making money from the Roussel-Uclaf products.

He began thinking about potential advances in reproductive medicine. During his medical training, he learned that women trying to terminate pregnancies inserted sticks to cause miscarriages and then ended up in the hospital. . "I heard one of them say, 'Tell me a lesson she remembers,'" he wrote.

In 1970, while Dr. Beaulieu was visiting India with a group of intellectuals, a woman begging on a bridge in Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) cradled a dead baby and found another. killed a child I approached him holding the hand of the child holding.

"It triggered an emotion in me and it's been going on my whole life," he said.

He began brainstorming ideas for "fertility pills." It involves a kind of biological magic trick.

Examination room in the Kremlin Bicester hospital. Julie Glasberg.

Dr. Beaulieu described the effect of RU-486 as "congestion." He wrote, "RU-486's actions are like jamming radio signals." Julie Glasberg.

The hormone progesterone is essential for pregnancy as it prepares the uterus to receive and hold an embryo. 

"I wanted to create an anti-hormonal drug," said Dr. Beaulieu.

His team identified a receptor molecule in guinea pigs to which progesterone binds and transmits messages. Dr. Beaulieu suggested making fake progesterone. This is a scammer that hooks onto the progesterone receptor and prevents the real hormone from being made.

He asked the chemists at Roussel-Uclaf to graft clusters of atoms into a molecule with the structure of progesterone so that it resembled enough to bind to the progesterone receptor.

German corporate leader Hoechst AG, a major shareholder of Roussel-Uclaf, was Wolfgang Hilger, a staunch anti-abortion Catholic. To avoid controversy at a meeting with company officials, Dr. Baulieu said he emphasized the anti-progesterone compound's non-abortion-related properties: It also blocks receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, so it's theoretically possible. can treat burns, wounds, and glaucoma. conditions such as.

"Teutsch and most others at the company didn't realize it at first, but that's what I wanted too. This is an anti-progesterone," writes Dr. Baulieu. It was registered as Roussel-Uclaf 38486, the company's 38,486th molecule, and was given the nickname RU-486.

Dr. Beaulieu's lab recently explained. If progesterone tries to open the door, it won't open because it's already blocked."

Dr. Beaulieu called this concept "congestion." He wrote, "RU-486's actions are like jamming radio signals."

After other scientists had tested RU-486 in rats and monkeys, Dr. Bowlieu urged Roussel-Uclaf to allow human trials and asked Swiss obstetrician and gynecologist friend Dr. have been asked to try I was asked for a test that I was asked to implement. A 1982 study found that RU-486 terminated early pregnancies in 9 out of 11 patients. Subsequent testing showed that this method was approximately 95% effective when RU-486 was combined with prostaglandins (drugs that cause contractions). Today, RU-486 — mifepristone — is followed 24-48 hours later by a synthetic prostaglandin called misoprostol.

Demonstration against RU-486 outside Roussel Uklach headquarters in Paris, 1991. Credit...Jean-Michel Turpin/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Anti-abortion activists flocked to shareholder meetings to ridicule the company. Hoechst's predecessor, I.G. Farben, who created the cyanide gas used in Nazi concentration camps, exclaimed, "You're turning your womb into an incinerator," writes Dr. Beaulieu.

In Washington, as part of an anti-abortion campaign, the French embassy was flooded with letters threatening to boycott French products if France approved the pill. The company nearly withdrew the application. In September 1988, French authorities approved RU-486.

A few days later, Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, an anti-abortion pediatrician who discovered the genetic basis for Down's syndrome, debated with Dr. Beaulieu on French television, calling RU-486 "the first anti-human pesticide.". '' He said. More than Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Stalin combined.

"I can't say I look like Hitler," cried Dr. Beaulieu.

Protests from the opposition were so fierce that Roussel-Uclaf announced it would stop selling RU-486 one month after approval. Dr. Baulieu wrote that the company's chairman, Dr. Edouard Sakiz, told him he feared violent incidents. It's like that month an ultra-conservative group set fire to a Paris cinema showing "The Last Temptation of Christ."

But Dr. Sakis said he was free to speak to Dr. Beaulieu. There, doctors and researchers lashed out at Roussel-Uclaf's withdrawal of RU-486.

Soon after, Claude Hévin, the French health minister who owned part of Roussel Uclaf, called RU-486 "a woman's moral property" and put pressure on the company to resume sales.