Arthur Nobile's patent for the invention, medical use, and production of the steroids prednisone and prednisolone was one of the most significant advances in medicine during the mid-twentieth century. These highly effective anti-inflammatory drugs have saved many lives, alleviated much suffering, and have become indispensable in treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Addison's disease, and lupus.
Prior to Nobile's work, the steroid cortisone was the primary treatment for rheumatoid arthritis but had unpleasant side effects. In 1950, Nobile succeeded in using bacteria to oxidize cortisone to prednisone and hydrocortisone to prednisolone, yielding effective treatments with minimal negative reactions. Modifications of the prednisolone molecule have resulted in compounds to treat asthma, ulcerative colitis, cerebral edema caused by cancer, and skin disorders.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Nobile studied at the University of Southern California before earning his A.B. from the University of California at Berkeley. The discovery of prednisone and prednisolone heralded a new area of chemical synthesis, creating a multibillion dollar industry based on the use of microbes to manufacture drugs.