The history of the site is closely linked to that of its founder, the vet Gaston Roussel (1877-1947). In 1909, as a young medical graduate, he discovered the therapeutic properties of a serum taken from rabbit’s blood. Applying his discovery to horses of the Compagnie Générale des Omnibus for which he was responsible, he obtained results showing that the serum from a second bloodletting could be a very effective cure for anaemia: Hemostyl was born. In 1911, Gaston Roussel created a laboratory to develop the horse serum, located in Romainville, near the Compagnie Générale des Omnibus’ stables. Hemostyl rapidly became the classic medicine for anaemia, tuberculosis and haemorrhages.
Later, Gaston Roussel became an entrepreneur, and surrounded himself with a team of doctors and chemists with whom he developed new processes. In 1927, the hiring of the chemist André Girard marked the start of chemical research with the creation of the Laboratoires Français de Chimiothérapie as well as the Usines Chimiques des Laboratoires Français (UCLAF).
The first factory was built in Romainville, on a plot of land adjacent to where Hémostyl was being prepared, in order to promote the company’s medicines of chemical origin. The first factory, UCLAF, covered seven hectares and rapidly became the workplace of two thousand technicians and workers.
Roussel’s investment in the production of antibiotics marked a change for the Romainville site. While France was still importing its penicillin from the United States, Roussel and the bio-chemist Henry Prénau formed the Société Française de Pénicilline (SOFRAPEN).
The production of penicillin (and other antibiotics) by fermentation requires specific installations to regulate temperature, hygrometry, and the sterility of the air. The construction site work was contracted to a specialist: Jean Barot, who had in the 1930s created the Laboratoires Debat in Garches and the Coty perfumery in Suresnes.
The laboratories for research and control (Carrel and Raulin buildings), as well as the offices, were located in long buildings whose floors were lit up by openings in the form of strips. They contrasted with the vertical nature of the bays of the Cuvier building which housed several fermenters containing more than 150 m3 and which were more than ten metres high.
The smooth running of the fermentation workshops as well as the laboratories was covered by a battery of compressors which made it possible to maintain the air at temperatures between +2° and -60°C. The complete system was powered by a hydraulic network which supplied 10,000 m3 of water pumped from more than 100 metres depth, as well as by a coal fired power station with an electrical output of 2500 Kw.
At the end of his life, Gaston Roussel received official acclaim by being elected to the Medical Academy, in the veterinary section, on 24 April 1945. His son, Jean-Claude, a young pharmacist of just 24 years of age, continued to further develop the activities and in 1962 he founded the holding Roussel-UCLAF. At the time of his death in 1972, the company had become a true pharmaceutical empire. A later merger with Rhône-Poulenc resulted in the creation of the current group Sanofi.