Who invented Botox? You will be surprised to know deadly origins of the drug

The inventor of modern-day Botox died last month at the age of 89. The chemical substance widely used in cosmetic surgery today has curious and deadly origins, something that even the inventor was surprised by.

 |  4-minute read |   13-01-2022
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Botox. Today, we know this drug as a small injection that can erase away signs of age from our ageing faces. It is quite popular and in vogue among celebrities all over the world. In some countries, getting botox is as common among the public, as getting a facial at a beauty salon. It doesn’t cost as much as other pricey cosmetic surgeries to fix the appearance. It works instantly and is also non-invasive. 

On December 16, 2021, the scientist credited with the discovery of the drug now known as Botox, Dr Alan Scott, passed away due to ill-health. He was 89 years old. 

alan-scott-647_011322023806.jpgDr Alan B Scott, inventor of Botox, passed away at the age of 89. Photo: Mike Kepka/The San Francisco Chronicle

It started with him and before him as well. As we remember Dr Scott's contributions, let's recount how the drug originated. You will be surprised to know the origins of Botox.


Dr Scott was not a cosmetic surgeon. He was an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor. He had never even thought that the drug he discovered could erase wrinkles. He never used the drug for the purpose either.

Here is how the drug originated, and it starts way before it came to be known as Botox:


During the 1820s, 13 people in a German town became ill with food poisoning after consuming a sausage. Six people died due to the illness. Then, German poet and district medical officer Justinus Kerner discovered what he called ‘sausage poison’ or ‘fatty poison’ that had resulted in food poisoning.

For years, he researched the toxin and in fact, became the first scientist to use the toxin for therapeutic measures. Kerner discovered that the toxin had paralytic effects and theorised that it can be used as a medical treatment for certain neural conditions.


The pathogen was still not discovered, when in 1895, there was a bacterial outbreak after a funeral dinner that served smoked ham (sausage!) in a Belgian village. Microbiologist Emile Pierre van Ermengem discovered the pathogen that caused the outbreak and named it Clostridium botulinum, after Latin word for sausage, ‘botulus’.


The US Department of Defence during World War II started research on Clostridium botulinum in hopes of developing it as a bioweapon. Yes, the toxin that goes into botox today, was once thought to be used as a bioweapon of mass destruction. We inject it into our faces for a premium now!


It was in 1978 that Dr Scott, the inventor of Botox, used Clostridium botulinum for therapeutic purposes. He injected the paralysing substance into the eye muscles of a patient whose eye had been pulled to one side after undergoing surgery. Dr Scott recounted in an interview with the Scientific American in 2016, that he couldn’t tell who was more nervous – he or the patient.

Suffice to say, it worked.

Dr Scott went on to refine the use of the life-threatening toxin into a life-altering treatment. He called it Oculinum and used it to treat conditions of the eyes. Later, doctors started using it to treat migraines, jaw-clenching and other ailments.


botox-647_011322024030.jpgRepresentational Image. Photo: Getty Images

It was during the therapeutic use of the drug that doctors and patients started observing a curious and delightful by-product. The use of the drug smoothened ageing lines on the face, though the effect wore off after a few months.

In 1991, Dr Scott sold off the rights to make the drug Oculinum to Allergan, an American pharmaceutical company. That’s when it became Botox, as we know it today.

From a food-poisoning pathogen to a deadly bioweapon, botox finally found its popular use in modern day as something completely different. 

Today, Botox forms the base for a global cosmetic industry worth nearly US $50 billion (as per 2020 figures). And the drug, Botox, alone generated US $4.83 billion in sales in 2019.


Amrutha Pagad Amrutha Pagad @amrutha_pagad

Amrutha loves writing on Humour, Politics, Environment and Gender. She is a Senior Sub editor at DailyO.

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