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In 1948 a corticosteroid compound was administered for the first time to a patient affected by rheumatoid arthritis by Philip Showalter Hench, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (USA). He was investigating since 1929 the role of adrenal gland-derived substances in rheumatoid arthritis. For the discovery of cortisone and its applications in anti-rheumatic therapy, Hench, along with Edward Calvin Kendall and Tadeusz Reichstein, won the 1950 Nobel Prize for Medicine. In this review we summarize the main stages that led to the identification of the so-called compound E, which was used by Hench. We also consider the subsequent development of steroid therapy in rheumatic diseases, through the introduction of new molecules with less mineralocorticoid effects, such as prednisone, and more recently, deflazacort.
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