Oral history interview with Miguel A. Ondetti

Oral history interview with Miguel A. Ondetti

  • 1995-Jan-12

Miguel A. Ondetti begins this interview by describing his parents' immigrant background and work in Argentina, his early interests in chemistry, and his education at vocational school in Buenos Aires. Upon high school graduation, Ondetti began work as a bookkeeper, continuing studies at night to meet university entrance requirements. He began chemistry coursework at the University of Buenos Aires while supporting himself with accounting work for the government. Here, he describes his broad training in chemistry, Argentina's political climate, and his Ph.D. scholarship and carbohydrates research for V. Deulofeu at The Squibb Institute.

Upon graduation in 1957, Ondetti explored other opportunities before accepting a position with Squibb's alkaloid isolation group, where he remained until 1960, when after much consideration he accepted a job with Squibb, New Jersey. In New Jersey, Ondetti worked in the peptide chemistry group, synthesizing the nonapeptide bradykinin under M. Bodanszky, with whom he co-wrote Peptide Synthesis. He discusses adjusting to life and work in the U.S. and his advancement in the peptide synthesis field and promotion to group head when Bodanszky pursued a career in academia. Ondetti was part of a group effort to synthesize gastrointestinal hormones, particularly secretin, a peptide amide that stimulates the pancreas to secrete bicarbonate and water. While Bodanszky pursued stepwise synthesis of the peptide, Ondetti worked with E. Sabo on fragment condensation. Both approaches eventually led to fully active synthetic secretin; the fragment condensation approach was used to obtain synthetic secretin for clinical studies, the results of which discouraged further development. Next, Ondetti worked with Sabo to synthesize cholecystokinin, which stimulates contraction of the gall bladder and secretion of enzymes from the pancreas. Here he describes problems with the synthetic peptide's development and its eventual use as a diagnostic agent.

Also discussed is the importance of his relationships with Sabo and Z. Horovitz. In 1967, A. D. Welch became Squibb's president, and changes in company research agendas led Ondetti to work on peptidase inhibitors. Ondetti describes acquiring venom for isolation of enzyme inhibitors, isolating angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, and learning to isolate and sequence peptides in competition with researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratories. In 1973, for practical reasons, Squibb's angiotensin converting enzyme [ACE] inhibitor work officially ended, but Ondetti's interest in the subject continued. Prompted by discoveries of L. D. Byers and R. Wolfenden and interactions with D. Cushman, Ondetti decided to pursue synthesis of succinyl-L-proline, which was found to potentiate the contractile activity of bradykinin. Continuing work in this direction, Ondetti and Sabo started making hydroxamic acids with better activity and eventually sulfhydryl compounds with great activity. After continued research, this work evolved into captopril. Here, Ondetti describes human trials of this drug, problems with FDA approval, the effectiveness of captopril for hypertension treatment, and follow-up research leading to new therapeutic agents. The interview closes with Ondetti's reflections on the fields of chemistry and pharmaceutical research, and his own career; highlighted are notions of success and rewards, collaboration between industry and academia, rational drug design, and leadership.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 58 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • May 14, 1930
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • August 23, 2004
  • Mercer County, New Jersey, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1955 Universidad de Buenos Aires Licentiate Chemistry
1957 Universidad de Buenos Aires PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Department of Energy (Argentina)

  • 1948 to 1957 Bookkeeper

Universidad de Buenos Aires

  • 1957 to 1960 Instructor

Catholic Institute for Teachers

  • 1957 to 1960 Professor

The Squibb Institute for Medical Research, Argentina

  • 1957 to 1960 Senior Research Chemist

Squibb Institute for Medical Research

  • 1960 to 1966 Senior Research Chemist
  • 1966 to 1973 Research Group Leader, Peptide Synthesis
  • 1973 to 1976 Section Head, Peptides, Steroids, and Antibiotic Research
  • 1976 to 1980 Director, Department of Biological Chemistry
  • 1980 to 1981 Associate Director, Chemical and Microbiological Research
  • 1981 to 1983 Vice President, Basic Research
  • 1984 to 1989 Vice President of Research, Cardiopulmonary Diseases
  • 1989 to 1990 Senior Vice President of Research, Cardiovascular Diseases
  • 1990 to 1991 Senior Vice President, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases
  • 1991 Retired


Year(s) Award
1981 Alfred Burger Award in Medicinal Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1983 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award, Research and Development Council, New Jersey
1983 Ciba Award for Hypertension Research, American Heart Association, Council on High Blood Pressure Research
1986 Chairman's Edward Robinson Squibb Award, E. R. Squibb & Sons, Inc.
1988 Award for Contributions to Medical Science, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and National Health Council
1988 Inventor of the Year Award, New Jersey Inventors Congress
1991 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry (American Section)
1991 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize, Harvard Medical School
1992 Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
1992 Herman Bloch Award for Scientific Excellence in Industry, University of Chicago

Cite as

Miguel A. Ondetti, interviewed by James J. Bohning in Princeton, New Jersey on January 12, 1995. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0126. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/47429b173.

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

9 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads