Erythromycin is a macrolide antibiotic that has an antimicrobial spectrum similar to or slightly wider than that of penicillin, and is often used for people who have an allergy to penicillins. For respiratory tract infections, it has better coverage of atypical organisms, including mycoplasma and Legionellosis. It was first marketed by Eli Lilly and Company, and it is today commonly known as EES (erythromycin ethylsuccinate, an ester prodrug that is commonly administered).
In structure, this macrocyclic compound contains a 14-membered lactone ring with ten asymmetric centers and two sugars (L-cladinose and D-desosamine), making it a compound very difficult to produce via synthetic methods.
Erythromycin is produced from a strain of the actinomycete Saccharopolyspora erythraea.
Abelardo Aguilar, a Filipino scientist, sent some soil samples to his employer Eli Lilly in 1949. Eli Lilly’s research team, led by J. M. McGuire, managed to isolate Erythromycin from the metabolic products of a strain of Streptomyces erythreus (designation changed to "Saccharopolyspora erythraea") found in the samples.
Lilly filed for patent protection of the compound and U.S. patent 2,653,899 was granted in 1953. The product was launched commercially in 1952 under the brand name Ilosone (after the Philippine region of Iloilo where it was originally collected from). Erythromycin was formerly also called Ilotycin.
In 1981, Nobel laureate (1965 in chemistry) and Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) Robert B. Woodward, along with a large number of members from his research group, posthumously reported the first stereocontrolled asymmetric chemical synthesis of Erythromycin A.
The antibiotic clarithromycin was invented by scientists at the Japanese drug company Taisho Pharmaceutical in the 1970s as a result of their efforts to overcome the acid instability of erythromycin.
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