The Alkaloid Man

Hey guys! We’re a bunch of students in Ateneo de Manila University, and we’re here to talk about one of the most celebrated scientists in the Philippines: Dr. Alfredo C. Santos.

 Alfredo Santos was born in Santo Tomas, Pampanga on August 15, 1900. By the of 25, he had already finished four degrees: an AB degree from Letran College, BS and MS degrees in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from UP, and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from UST! He was also the first Filipino to have a doctorate degree in alkaloidal chemistry. This dedicated man spent a lot of his time studying herbal medicine, researching and teaching. His works were published in local and international scientific journals. His book Philippine Plants and their Contained Natural Products: Biological and Pharmacological Literature Society is an indispensable guide in the study of herbal medicine. Think of it as a printed google index of the country’s plants.

     Dr. Santos was given the title and rank of National Scientist, the highest award given to Filipinos who have made their way in the field of science, way back on the 10th of July in 1978. Also known as the Alkaloid Man of the Philippines, he was a main instigator in reducing the general prices of medicine.  

     When World War II ended, the prices of medicine shot up because of the cost of import, and the poor and marginalized were the ones most affected by this situation. This led to a variety of scientists’ search for a solution, among one of them was Dr. Alfredo Santos.

     He put an enormous amount of time and effort in his study of local plants. He conducted researches on the isolation and structure elucidation of phaeanthine and phaeantharine, which are alkaloids from native medicinal plants. This was done in order to find natural alternatives that could be used as substitutes for expensive medical drugs.

     Dr. Santos became a National Scientist mainly because of this. While alkaloids may be one of the most potent group of poisonous medicines, the ones he worked with were mostly therapeutic. His most famous work is that on phaeanthine. Through the manipulation of this compound, Dr. Santos was able to create a medicine for high blood pressure. Although he didn’t arrive to this quintessential work in medicine without thorough research, Dr. Santos continued a previous research in Africa and gave way to the discovery of phaeanthine as an emulsifying agent that functions as a replacement for ammonium derivatives. Not only is this compound relevant in the field of medicine but also in industrial production; it is frequently used to make dyes, pesticides, plastics, and it can also be used as a muscle relaxant.

     In short, he simply found a local ingredients to substitute for costly, imported materials. While simple in this regard, his work was indispensable in lowering the cost of medicine in the Philippines.

     The world could use more people like Dr. Santos, people who are willing to go beyond themselves just so that the marginalized could be addressed. Imagine how much accessible medicine became to everyone because of his discoveries. Dr. Alfredo Santos is a genius in his own right, one who rightfully deserves every single award and recognition given to him.

     Aside from this, Dr. Alfredo Santos was a patient mentor. You could even compare him to the old wise sensei in martial arts movies. He encouraged others to get involved with the study of Philippine medicinal plants, especially those containing alkaloids and glycosis. Like the wise old sensei type that he is, he’d encourage students who were struggling to press on. Dr. Santos handed down all his experiences he had from Germany. He was there personally to cheer his students on. Among his students were Drs. Gertrudes Aguilar-Santos, Glory C. Lleandor-Chanco, Lydia Joson and Cheo Sakul Pradish. He believed in the value of time and   action, and was regarded as the “Father of Natural Products” in UST for introducing the study of natural products.

     Dr. Santos was a member of many prestigious societies such as the National Research Council of the Philippines. He was a founding Fellow of the Philippine Academy of Science and Humanities, a member of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science, and many more. Dr. Santos received many awards such as “Outstanding Pharmacist Researcher” and “Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Chemistry on Alkaloids” from the late Ramon Magsaysay during National Science week in 1954, “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from UP in 1957, and a number more! He married Caridad Tison and had three children.

     He was a deeply religious and devoted husband. Although he had been devoted to his work, he never neglected his family. He led a scientifically productive life until he died in 1990.

     More or less, that’s that. We’d like to thank you for reading this whole post, and we’d like to hear more from you. So before we end this post, we’d like you to keep one thing in mind. Do you think that was only due to his research work that he became a National Scientist? Or was it something else?

     Please post your answers below. We’d love to hear more from you 🙂

Felicia Cruz, Hanna El Debbar, Jodel Fernandez, Daenne Gomez, Mark Remington Tan, Benjamin Tañedo, Eugene Yee 


DOST-NAST. National Scientists of the Philippines (1978-1998). Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2000. Print.

Fumitaka Takami, et al. “Studies On The Alkaloids Of Menispermaceous Plants. Part CCXLIX. Total Synthesis Of Optically Active Natural Isotetrandrine, Phaeanthine, And Tetrandrine.” Journal Of The Chemical Society C: Organic 11 (1969): 1547. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 3 July 2013.

Plants for Medicines: A Chemical and Pharamacological Survey of Plants in the Australian Region. Australia: Csiro Publishing, 1990. 79. 

M. Debray, et al. “[Presence Of Phaeanthine In An African Menispermaceae: Triclisia Patens Oliver. Preparation And Study Of Some Of Its Quaternary Ammonium Derivatives].” Annales Pharmaceutiques Françaises 21.(1963): 767. MEDLINE. Web. 3 July 2013.

Manske, R.H.F. The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Physiology. New York: Academic Press Inc., 1960. 449.

Mendoza, Evelyn Mae T., and Serlie F. Jamias, eds. Filipino Heroes of Science: National Scientists of the Philippines, 1978-1998. Taguig: National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines, Dept. of Science and Technology, 2004. Print.

Kronlund, A., K. Kristiansson, and F. Sandberg. “The Occurrence Of Phaeanthine And N,N1 Dimethylphaeanthine In Triclisia Dictyophylla And T. Patens. A New Simple Method For Estimation Of Muscle Relaxant Effect.” Acta Pharmaceutica Suecica 7.3 (1970): 279-284.Scopus. Web. 3 July 2013.

“NRCP Publications.” NRCP Publications. Department of Science and Technology, n.d. Web. 05 July 2013.

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