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Frank Berger was born in 1913 in Pilsen, Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic and received his M.D. in 1937 from Charles University in Prague. He began his professional career as a bacteriologist in his native country, but left Czechoslovakia in 1939.

In 1943 Berger developed a method for the purification of penicillin, and while working in the laboratories of the British Drug Houses in London, searching for a substance that would inhibit the growth of Gram-negative microorganisms that cause the enzymatic destruction of penicillin, he examined several structurally related α-substituted ethers of glycerol. It was in the course of this research that he noted that administration of small quantities of structurally-related α-substituted ethers of glycerol, and especially of mephenesin, to mice, rats and guinea pigs caused tranquilization, muscle relaxation and a sleep–like condition from which the animal could be easily roused. He recognized the potential of the substance for the treatment of anxiety and to overcome the shortcomings of mephenesin, e.g., short duration of action, he initiated at Wallace Laboratories of Carter Products in he USA a program that yielded in 1950 the synthesis of meprobamate, a 2-methyl-2-n-propyl-1, 3-propanediol dicarbamate. The new substance had tranquilizing action in animals like mephenesin, but its duration of action was almost eight times longer. In contrast to mephenesin, it depressed multi-neuronal reflexes without significantly affecting monosynaptic spinal reflexes.

The therapeutic effect of meprobamate in anxiety and tension states was first reported in the spring of 1955 and the substance was introduced into clinical use in the United States in the summer of the same year. By the late 1950s it was the most widely used prescription drug and it retained its lead until the late 1960s.

Subsequent to meprobamate, in the 1950s and ‘60s, Berger was instrumental in developing structurally related substances to meprobamate, such as carisoprodol, an analgesic and tybamate, another tranquilizer. He was also instrumental in developing Deprol, a meprobamate and benactyzine combination for use in depression.

In 1972 Berger resigned from Carter Wallace and retired from active research. He died in 2008 in New York at age 94.

Berger FM. The pharmacological properties of 2-methyl-2-n-propyl-1,3-propanediol dicarbamate, a new interneuronal blocking agent. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1954; 112: 41-23

Berger FM. Mepobamate and other glycol derivatives. In: Usdin E, Forrest IS, eds. Psychotherapeutic drugs. Volume 2. New York: Marcel Dekker; 1977, pp. 1089-100.

Thomas A. Ban
August 1, 2013