300 years ago there was the world’s first inflation adjusted biotech billionaire

Han Sloane achieved great wealth about 300 years ago and it was from what we would term biotech today.

I recently went on an excellent tour of the British Museum. Retired lawyer Allan Lawson provided the tour and provided great stories like the story of Hans Sloane. There were also insights into the how public museums emerged and how it related to the printing presses and growth of production.

Hans Sloane lived from 1660 to 1753. He grew up from a family of modest means.

Sloane became a protégé of Thomas Sydenham, the most influential physician of the day in London. When the older man was too sick with gout and other infirmities, Sloane would represent Sydenham. In 1687, Sloane was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Profit from Malaria treatment

In 1687, Sloane was appointed physician to the Duke of Albemarle, and surgeon to the West Indies fleet.

Sloane invested almost his entire salary while in Jamaica acquiring the bark of tree which was a source of quinine. Quinine can treat malaria. The Spanish controlled the region, so Sloane had to pay people to go to the island to get the bark for him.

Sloane sold some of the bark for a large profit but also was one of the few physicians in England with a source of quinine.

Sloane worked as a doctor on slave plantations. English planters and enslaved West Africans helped assembled a collection of 800 plant specimens, as well as animals and curiosities. One of the plants was cocoa beans. The Spanish were already using it but Sloane had a recipe with milk and introduced drinking milk chocolate to England. Cadbury’s did not become a truly successful company until about 1880. Cadbury’s started in 1824 as a small business. This was well after Sloane had died.

When he returned to England, Sloane married Elizabeth Langley Rose, heiress to sugar plantations in Jamaica, profits from which made him even wealthier, in addition to his medical income.

Sloane’s reputation grew and he began treating Royalty including the royal family from about 1700. Sloane had a secret and successful treatment for eye infections which he published in 1745.

Smallpox treatment

Even royalty and the wealthy were vulnerable to smallpox. There would be regular outbreaks that would kill many people in an extremely painful way. Smallpox was greatly feared.

From about 1714, Sloane was involved in early smallpox inoculation experiments on 6 prisoners and then on orphans. This involved cutting open a blister of someone with smallpox and taking the liquid. The person to be inoculated would have a cut on their arm and have the smallbox blister liquid put into the arm.

Inoculations for smallpox were already being done in Turkey. The successful experiments proved the method for England. Sloane also used the inoculations on his own grandchildren before.

Sloane was paid very large amounts by the royalty and the wealthy for inoculation treatments. The success of inoculation depends on the skill of the administrator.

Later, people would be treated with cowpox to develop immunity to smallpox.

Sloane donated his collection which would become the beginnings of the British Museum.