On a cold and foggy February day in 1940 a patient
was lying on a cot in the hospital at
was a big man, still in his prim — only forty-three.
But on this particular day he was very sick,
indeed his condition
was regarded as very grave. The
doctors who examined
him pronounced him practically
hopeless. The man was
dying of blood poisoning —
a hostile microbe had
invaded his blood stream through
a tiny cut made during
a hurried morning shave.
As a last resort, the
doctors decided to treat him
with an entirely new
drug. The drug had never yet been
tested on a human being. True, penicillin, as it was
called, had saved
experimental animals: it had protected mice and rats against infection
caused by the same microbe.
two doctors who took charge of the treatment
were Dr. Florey and Dr. Chain. They had a very limited amount of
penicillin, prepared by themselves. With both
doubt and hope in their hearts, they set out to treat
their first case with the new drug.
After a few days of treatment, their hopeless patient
was much better.
Unfortunately, their supply of the drug gave out at this point, and the illness began to
gain ground again. Before they were
able to prepare more
penicillin, the patient died. The doctors had lost the first round of
the fight. But they had lost it only
because they did not have enough
penicillin. The drug had clearly proved very effective . . .
next time the two doctors tried the drug they
completely successful: they cured a young boy
was also considered a hopeless case of blood
Penicillin had been
discovered twelve years earlier
by Dr. Alexander
Fleming, the bacteriologist at St.
Mary's Hospital in London. One day Dr. Fleming set aside several
slides with microbe cultures in his laboratory
and left them there. The summer of that year
was very cool and damp,
conditions favouring the
growth of moulds.
Fleming examined the slides a few days
later, he found many of
them contaminated with
moulds. There was
nothing very unusual about this,
for mould spores are
carried everywhere by air currents
and grow wherever 'hey can find food. What was unusual was that the
mould had destroyed some
of the colonies of
bacteria. All around the mould the area was
clear — the microbes would not grow in the
vicinity of the mould.
Fleming published his observations in September
1928, his work received very little attention. Scientists, although
astonished and intrigued by this
discovery, had little
The idea of using moulds as therapeutic agents
was too revolutionary to appeal to the conservative
minds of most medical men. Two exceptions were Dr. Florey and Dr. Chain.
They continued the work on 'penicillin, subjecting it to all sorts of
tests and later, as we know,
proving it to be an extremely powerful drug.
Unfortunately, neither the British
private firms were prepared to undertake the production of penicillin. Its laboratory production was too expensive.
Florey and Chain then went to the United
The Americans were quick to realize the advantages
of the new wonder-drug and in 1942 started its
Americans often asked Fleming why he
had not patented penicillin; indeed, had he done so,
he would have been a millionaire. But
the scientist always replied
to such questions that penicillin should be
available to all people. It should not be a means of enrichment to
The first Soviet penicillin was prepared in 1942,
the Americans were only starting work on the
production of the drug. It was prepared
in our country
by a group of scientists headed by Dr. Yermolyeva.
of other antibiotics have since been prepared
Soviet Union, many of them even more powerful
than their parent drug...