Leo Sternbach

Leo Sternbach bigraphy, stories - Croatian chemist

Leo Sternbach : biography

May 7, 1908 – September 28, 2005

Leo Henryk Sternbach (May 7, 1908 – September 28, 2005) was a Croatian born Polish-American chemist who is credited with discovering benzodiazepines, main class of tranquilizers.Alex Baenninger; , New York : McGraw-Hill, 2004. ISBN 0-07-142617-5

Background and family

Sternbach was born on May 7, 1908 in Opatija, to a Jewish family. Ha-Kol (Glasilo Židovske zajednice u Hrvatskoj); Sanja Dukić; Povratak velikana u rodnu Opatiju; stranica 40, 41; broj 94, svibanj / lipanj 2006. His father Michael Abracham Sternbach was from Przemyśl in Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary), and his mother Piroska (née Cohn) Sternbach was from Orosháza, Hungary. Sternbach parents met and married in Opatija where they both lived. The family lived in a rented four-room apartment on the third floor of the "Vila Jadran" (Villa Adriatic), near the pharmacy owned by Sternbach father. Sternbach family belonged to the taller middle-layer of Opatija society. Sternbach had younger brother Giusi. Sternbach family moved to Poland in 1926. Ha-Kol (Glasilo Židovske zajednice u Hrvatskoj); Sanja Dukić; Opatijsko djetinjstvo dr. Lea Sternbacha; stranica 42, 43, 44; broj 94, svibanj / lipanj 2006. Acta Medico-Historica Adriatica; Sanja Simper; Dr. Leo Henryk Sternbach’s childhood in Opatija ( Opatijsko djetinjstvo Dr. Lea Henryka Ssternbacha); stranica 92 – 103; 2007.


A book "Good chemistry: The life and legacy of valium inventor Leo Sternbach" was published by McGraw-Hill in 2004.

Sternbach’s uncle Leon Sternbach, the brother of Sternbach’s father Michael, was a professor of classical philology at Jagiellonian University. He was murdered in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by Gustav Sorge in 1940.

He is present in the New Jersey Inventor’s Hall of Fame; and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in February 2005, a few months before his death., Medical News Today, February 12, 2005. Accessed October 17, 2007. Sternbach is a member of the Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame.

Education and career

He received his doctoral degree in organic chemistry from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. He worked for Hoffmann-La Roche in Basel, Switzerland, which helped him to flee to the United States in 1941 to escape the Germans. His work on drugs was done while working for Roche in Nutley, New Jersey. Sternbach is credited with the discovery of chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), nitrazepam (Mogadon), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), clonazepam (Klonopin), and trimethaphan (Arfonad). Librium, based on the R0 6-690 compound discovered by Sternbach in 1956, was approved for use in 1960. In 1963 its improved version, Valium, was released and became astonishingly popular: between 1969 and 1982 it was the most prescribed drug in America, with over 2.3 billion sold in peak year of 1978. With Moses Wolf Goldberg, Sternbach also developed "the first commercially applicable" method for synthesizing biotin.

Sternbach held 241 patents, and his discoveries helped to turn Roche into a pharmaceutical industry giant. He didn’t become wealthy from his discoveries but he was happy: he treated chemistry as a passion and said that "I always did just what I wanted to do". He went into the office until he was 95. Sternbach was a longtime resident of Upper Montclair, New Jersey, from 1943 to 2003. He then moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he died in 2005.Pearce, Jeremy. , The New York Times, October 1, 2005. Accessed October 17, 2007. "The couple lived in Upper Montclair, N.J., until last year, when they moved to Chapel Hill.", Roche, September 30, 2005. Accessed October 17, 2007. "A devoted family man, Sternbach lived with his wife, Herta, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, from 1943 to 2003…"