Researchers first attempt at treating growth hormone deficiency was to purify bovine growth hormone (rBGH) for use in GH-deficient humans. Since the 1920’s, doctors have been using a purified form of bovine insulin to treat patients with type-1 diabetes. However, bovine somatotropin has a different molecular structure than human growth hormone, so this treatment was ultimately unsuccessful.
The first successful human treatment of growth hormone deficiency was in 1958. Maurice Raben, an
endocrinologist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, was able to purify enough GH from the pituitary glands of an autopsied body to treat GH-deficiency in a 17-year-old boy. After hearing of
Raben’s successful treatment, many endocrinologists began to make arrangements with local morgues in order to obtain the pituitary glands of autopsied cadavers. This form of growth hormone became known as cadaver-GH.
In 1960, the U.S. National Institutes of Health formed a branch called the National Pituitary Agency in order to better control the procurement and distribution of cadaver-GH. The National Pituitary Agency arranged for large scale procurement and purification of cadaver-GH and distributed it to select endocrinologists for the treatment of GH-deficiency in children. Several other countries followed by developing their own cadaver-GH controlling agencies.
Treatment for GH-deficiency in this manner was reserved for only the most severe cases. Only children who suffered from GH-deficiency were allowed treatment, and treatment ceased when a child reached a minimal height. For these reasons, few children were treated during the 20 years of cadaver-GH treatment.
In the late 1970’s, Swedish pharmaceutical company, Kabi, began to contract the purchase of pituitary glands from European hospitals for the first commercial GH product, Crescormon. Kabi advertised Crescormon with the slogan “Now you determine the need,” working off of the idea that treatment, until then, had been limited by government controlled agencies.
In 1985, four cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) were diagnosed in patients who had been treated with cadaver-GH in the 1960’s. By 2003, that number had risen to 26. The use of cadaver-GH quickly ceased upon the discovery of the similar GH treatments that each CJD-diagnosed individual received in their youth.
However, in 1981, American pharmaceutical company, Genentech, after collaborating with Kabi, developed the first synthetic human growth hormone. Known as recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH), this form of synthetic GH was produced using a biosynthetic process called Inclusion Body technology. Human growth hormone produced by Inclusion Body technology became known as somatrem. Later, an improved process of creating rhGH was developed called Protein Secretion technology. This method is the most common form of current HGH synthesis; it is known as Somatropin.