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MARGINALIA

Cats and Rats

Roald Hoffman

What's in a Name

This part of the story begins (for me) in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, where my mother is given Coumadin after a heart attack. A few days later, my eye is caught by a front-page article in the New York Times reporting a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, Paul Radker and his colleagues at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston show the effectiveness of a new, mild regime of Coumadin in preventing blood clots. Because of my mother, I read this with more than usual interest, and note the generic name of the drug, warfarin.

Click to Enlarge Image

Something bothers me about the name. Who would give a life-saving anticoagulant a moniker out of Mordor? A little research reveals that warfarin, whose structure is shown below, first found use as an effective rat poison! That explains its name, I think; it has also been marketed as Marevan, Dethnel, Rodafarin and Frass-ratron—equally fitting names.

But . . . while my intuition seemed to lead me in the right direction, I was wrong about the origin of the name. It turns out that the name warfarin comes from the initials of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which patented it! And from coumarin, a natural product of which it is a derivative.








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