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MacFarlan Smith

MacFarlan Smith
Industry Pharmaceuticals
Predecessor J.F. Macfarlan
Duncan Flockhart
T&H Smith
Founded 1815
Headquarters Edinburgh, Scotland
Area served
Products Opiate alkaloids, Bitrex
Owner Johnson Matthey plc.[1][2]
Website /.comMacSmith

MacFarlan Smith is a Edinburgh based Scottish pharmaceutical research company, founded in 1815. It is part of the Fine Chemical and Catalysts division of Johnson Matthey plc.[1][2]


  • Background 1
    • J.F. Macfarlan 1.1
    • Duncan Flockhart 1.2
    • T&H Smith 1.3
  • Foundation 2
  • Present 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


J.F. Macfarlan

J.F. Macfarlan Ltd was founded in 1780 as an apothecary supplier. In 1815 John Fletcher Macfarlan, licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, became the owner of the family business, and acquired an apothecary's shop in Edinburgh. He immediately began to manufacture laudanum, a medicine based on opium. In 1830 Macfarlan began a partnership with his former apprentice David Rennie Brown, and so incorporated the business as J.F. Macfarlan and Co Ltd. In 1832 the company began manufacture of morphine acetate (the medicinal version of heroin), and hydrochloride, which led to the development and manufacture of the anaesthetics ether and chloroform. This allowed the company to develop sterile dressings for Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister under contract. After acquiring the Abbeyhill chemical works in 1840 for the production of alkaloids, from 1870 the production of codeine began in 1886. The company then acquired another site in Northfield, Edinburgh, in 1900 for the production of strychnine.[3]

Duncan Flockhart

John Duncan was born in Kinross in 1780. After serving a five-year apprenticeship in Edinburgh, he moved directly to London, before returning to Perth in 1806 to establish a chemists shop. After expanding to Edinburgh in 1820, Duncan dissolved the partnership with the Perth shop and started a new partnership in Edinburgh, which in 1833 was called Duncan & Flockhart, incorporated three years later.[1] In 1839 the firm began to manufacture lactucarium,[1] and from 1847 supplied Chloroform to Sir James Simpson. The firm expanded, and supplied chloroform to both the British Army, Royal Navy and British Red Cross during both world wars.[1] After the start of World War I, the company established a drug growing farm at Warriston, to assure supply.[1]

T&H Smith

T&H Smith was established as a World War I, the company supplied Morphine and over 7,500 long tons (7,600 t) of Lint-based medical dressings to the British Army. In 1919, T&H Smith bought Glasgow Apothecaries. In 1926, the company acquired John Mackay Chemicals, subsequently incorporating its associated subsidiaries in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.[1]


In 1962, T&H Smith bought Duncan Flockhart, and then merged with along J.F Macfarlan to form Edinburgh Pharmaceuticals. In 1965 the Glaxo Group bought Edinburgh Pharmaceuticals, rebranding it Macfarlan Smith Ltd.[1][2]

In 1958, while trying to develop dental anasthetic Lignocaine, the company had discovered the bitterest substance yet known to man, Denatonium. Developed as a denaturant for industrial alcohol, in the 1970s it was commercial marketed as Bitrex®,[7] a safety additive for household products such as liquid detergents. Tesco were the first supermarket to display the Bitrex® brand on their products.[1][2]

In 1963 the company reproduced Etorphine, in a research group led by Professor Kenneth Bentley.[8]

Bought through a management buy out in 1990, Macfarlan Smith was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1993 under the holding company Meconic, the Greek language word for Poppy.[1][2]


In 2001, Johnson Matthey plc bought Meconic, and merged it into its Fine Chemical and Catalysts division.[1][2]

In late 2006, the British government permitted MacFarlan Smith to cultivate opium poppies in the United Kingdom for medicinal reasons, in response to increasing global prices for concentrate of poppy straw, the company's main raw material. This move is well received by British farmers, with a major opium poppy field based in Didcot, England. As of 2012 they were growing in Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire & Lincolnshire as a spring sown breakcrop recognised under the single payment scheme farm subsidy.[9] The Office of Fair Trading has alerted the government to their monopoly position on growing in the UK and worldwide production of diamorphine and recommended consideration.[10] The government's response advocated the status quo, being concerned interference might cause the company to stop production.[11]

The British government has since contradicted the Home Office's suggestion that opium cultivation can be legalized in Afghanistan for exports to the United Kingdom, helping lower poverty and internal fighting whilst helping the National Health Service to meet the high demand for morphine and heroin. Opium poppy cultivation in the United Kingdom does not need a licence, but a licence is required for those wishing to extract opium for medicinal products.[12]

Macfarlan Smith is now one of the world's leading manufacturer of opiate alkaloids. Together with sister companies within the Johnson Matthey group, they can provide full spectrum drug development, from drug discovery through to bulk production.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o
  2. ^ a b c d e f g
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  8. ^ Bentley KW, Hardy DG. "New potent analgesics in the morphine series." Proceedings of the Chemical Society. 1963;220.
  9. ^
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  11. ^
  12. ^ The painkilling fields: England's opium poppies that tackle the NHS morphine crisis, Press release, September 15, 2007.

External links

  • Company website
  • Bitrex website
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