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‘The principles of a future pharmacology’: Johann Christian Reil (1759–1813) and his role in the development of clinical pharmacology

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Johann Christian Reil was an eighteenth-century German physician and clinical academic with wide interests. These included building the scientific foundations of modern medical practice. In 1799, he published a work specifically calling for a scientific approach to pharmacology in medical practice. In this paper, I aim to present the key parts of that work for the first time in English translation.


Reil’s 1799 work was translated into English and evaluated against current standards of practice in clinical pharmacology to highlight his ‘modern’ approach to our subject.


Reil defines pharmacology and presents a series of eight rules or principles that should be followed by those wishing to evaluate drugs in humans. These rules highlight the need for scientific rigour, including the use of multiple controlled experiments, and call for the introduction of a specialized vocabulary to facilitate the exchange of ideas between pharmacological researchers.


Although rarely mentioned in the pharmacological literature today, Reil’s work in the late eighteenth century is an important precursor of our modern approach to the evaluation and testing of drugs in clinical practice. This English translation of the key sections of his work may now allow others to properly evaluate his contribution.

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This work could not have been done without Alexander Gaw, who translated Reil’s paper from the original German, and SJ Littleford who helped me access key literature in Oxford.

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Correspondence to A. Gaw.

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Gaw, A. ‘The principles of a future pharmacology’: Johann Christian Reil (1759–1813) and his role in the development of clinical pharmacology. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 72, 13–17 (2016).

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