From Viagra to Valium, the drugs that were discovered by accident

From Alexander Fleming onwards, the lives of millions have been transformed and saved by treatments that scientists were not even looking for

When scientists in New Zealand discovered that a meningitis vaccine fortuitously protects against gonorrhoea, they were benefiting from an unpredictable force responsible for some of history’s most striking medical breakthroughs: serendipity.

So many things have been discovered by chance. The German writer, scientist and all-round polymath Johann Wolfgang Goethe, a discoverer himself, wrote: “Discovery needs luck, invention, intellect – none can do without the other.”

Related: Meningitis vaccine may also cut risk of ‘untreatable’ gonorrhoea, study says

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