Dr. Madis Laboratories, Inc. – the End of an Era
I have the fortune sometimes of seeing the entire story take place before me, and have the opportunity to see history happening when it is truly happening.
The last years of The Madis Laboratories when it was in full operation is an example of this.
I met up with one of the remaining managers or directors of the company in 1983. I was in medical school then and had one of the most peculiar opportunities come my way, something you just never expect to happen.
I held this class the summer before in Port Jefferson Long Island teaching classes on the property behind the Provisions natural food store on local medicinal plants. At this class was the local cable TV station crew there to do a ten minute take on my classes for the local activities show they aired through cable TV. This filming was played several times the following week, and they asked me to come in to do a live taping of me demonstrating the process of making some of these miraculous plant decoctions I was so often talking about out there during my classes.
One of the local companies heard about me and this show of my demonstration taped live in the station and told his boss who I will call Jerome about this taping. Jerome was in change of a generic drug manufacturing company and was in the mood to start a new line of products in nutritional supplements and/or cosmetics. He found ny number and called me out of the blue one day and asked me if I’d be interested in developing a line of “herbal medicines.” At the time I was enrolled in the MD program nearby and my main area of interest was these herbal medicine businesses, so I asked him more about the details of this opportunity.
He asked me to meet with him, which I agreed to, on a Friday since that was normally a half day at the school due to other commitments some people had on Fridays and the need to go home early to the Big City. On my first meeting with him he told he about his plans, which were to design a dozen of so over-the-counter herbal medicines that would see and be somewhat new or innovative. We talked for several hours then, going back and forth about his feelings about this market and my general impressions about it, and in the end, I decided that if anyone was going to make these products and have them be safe, maybe effective, and definitely marketable and meeting demands, that I was the person to do this. And so we agreed, that I’d design these recipes and he’d take a close look at them and see which were most marketable and easiest to prepare.
His facility was a standard generic drug manufactory. He could make tablets and capsules mostly, but had the equipment to engage in some fluid based work like making tinctures, liniments, what have you. He said he had been doing this for uite a whole, mostly for the Vitamins, mineral supplements, and skin lotions/cosmetics markets.
The unique thing about his company, which I could tell from the very beginning, was that he was a very shrewd manager. He knew how to make a product for less that expected and sell it based on labeling. One of the primarily things we went over time and time again during the course of developing this product line were the legalities of the products Iw as asked to develop recipes for.
I knew as a medical student that they had to be legitimate in their claims. None of those hocus pocus remedies you read about in the popular paperbacks that you or your parents might pay 25 cents for at the used book store. My philosophy was also that they had to be true medicines. In addition, due to my background in toxicology, I felt I could determine the herbs that were most credible, and which made the recipe more appealing than some of the very earthy smelling substances like smelly valerian root, and which had some underlying evidence that they worked. The additional qualifiers we decided were that these herbs could not be substituted for or adulterated, and they could not be improperly used, like applying the leaf instead of the seed–the leaf may be easier and cheaper, but it was also less concentrated in its effects, and the stronger parts like seeds and wood chips had to be in fine powder so they’d extract well or be absorbed better.
Over the two month I developed around 15 recipes, for what I considered to be the most common reasons herbal medicines were purchased and used. These recipes at times seemed very basic, as if they were pulled out of the generic “Book of Herbs” or the like, but at least they were my recipes with my scientific analysis and reasoning to back up their claims and uses.
The next part of the product planning strategies had to deal with the writings and marketing. According to labeling laws, I told the company, these products can’t say anything about what they do or treat on the label. I recommended that anything said of this sort should be made available to potential buyers as pamphlet materials, with any direct attachment to the product line.
The final task in this manufacturing process was finding a source for these herbs, a company that could produce them in powder form, for use in making capsules or tablets.
This is where this company’s book came into play.
Enrolled in medical school, taking my required pharmacology classes, I knew that the last plant-derived crude plant products to be sold and marketed had to do with digitalis and other plants with digitalis-like glucosides. Most plants had their important chemicals and purified by the 1970s in medicine, but digitalis remained one of the last of its kind due to the nature of how well it worked on the heart when dispensed and taken in crude herb form. Purifying the digitalis glycosides produced less desirable, effects and more symptoms or side effects.
The 1960s was the last decade when pharmacognosy was a part of the pharmacy curriculum. I knew this as well because I had just purchased the final teaching collection of plants, apothecary jars and plastic boxes with crude herb specimens from an antique store in the middle of Long Island. Accompanying these plants drugs were 82 poster-sized thick fiberboard water colors of medical plants and about 300 books owned by the doctor who owned this collection and used it to teach at the local New York pharmacy college.
The catalogue distributed by Madis Labs detailed how a lot of these plants were grown or wildcrafted, prepared, standardized, and then used.