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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 11:00 GMT
The Pill
The British Medical Journal is launching a competition to decided the greatest medical breakthrough.

Present-day medical experts are championing discoveries from the last 166 years.

Carl Djerassi, emeritus professor of chemistry, Stanford University - credited with discovering the Pill - is backing it as the most important medical discovery.

The first oral contraceptive pill, the progestin norethindrone, was developed in 1951.

The pill
A wide number of types of Pill are now available

Combined oral contraceptives were first approved for use in the US in 1960.

They are now used by more than 100 million women worldwide.

Professor Djerassi says it deserves to win the medical milestone award because it has given women the control over whether or not they become pregnant.

It was also the first drug to be taken over a long period of time by "healthy" people.

This helped define safety and risk-benefit considerations and led the way for other medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs which are also taken to prevent rather than "treat" something.

He adds: "The Pill is the preferred method of reversible contraception in more than half the countries around the world, and more than 80% of women in the US have at one time used the pill while about 100 million women worldwide at any one time are on the Pill.

"The fact that norethindrone is still being consumed by millions of women is one of the relatively rare examples (aspirin being the most famous) where the original chemical is still being used in unmodified form decades after its original synthesis."

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