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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2006;8(3):335-44.

The role of serendipity in drug discovery.

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Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA.


Serendipity is one of the many factors that may contribute to drug discovery. It has played a role in the discovery of prototype psychotropic drugs that led to modern pharmacological treatment in psychiatry. It has also played a role in the discovery of several drugs that have had an impact on the development of psychiatry. "Serendipity" in drug discovery implies the finding of one thing while looking for something else. This was the case in six of the twelve serendipitous discoveries reviewed in this paper, i.e., aniline purple, penicillin, lysergic acid diethylamide, meprobamate, chlorpromazine, and imipramine. In the case of three drugs, i.e., potassium bromide, chloral hydrate, and lithium, the discovery was serendipitous because an utterly false rationale led to correct empirical results; and in case of two others, i.e., iproniazid and sildenafil, because valuable indications were found for these drugs which were not initially those sought The discovery of one of the twelve drugs, chlordiazepoxide, was sheer luck.

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