Fleming, Penicillin, Pfizer and WW2


A magazine ad for penicillin during WWII



The Scottish bacteriologist Sir Alexander 1) ___, (1881-1955), discovered penicillin. In 1906, Fleming (not related to Ian Fleming) received his medical degree from St. Mary’s Hospital in London. During World War I he began experimenting with antibacterial substances and in 1921 discovered lysozyme, an antibiotic enzyme that attacks many types of 2) ___. In 1928, when Fleming discovered the germ-killing properties of the “mold juice” secreted by Penicillium notatum, he knew that it could have profound 3) ___ value. But Fleming could not make enough penicillin to be useful in practice, and his discovery was dismissed as no more than a laboratory curiosity. Ten years later, a team of scientists at Oxford University rediscovered Fleming’s work. Armed with increasing evidence of the remarkable powers of penicillin, but unable to engage British companies due to the country’s involvement in World War II, the Oxford scientists sought help in 4) ___.


In 1941 John Davenport and Gordon Cragwall, representing the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, attended a symposium. At the symposium researchers from Columbia University presented clear evidence that penicillin could effectively treat infections. Inspired by the possibilities, the two men offered Pfizer’s assistance. That same year, Pfizer was among the companies responding to a government appeal to join a high-stakes race to see which company would develop a way to mass-produce the world’s first “wonder 5) ___.” Beginning with fermentation experiments conducted with the team at Columbia University, Pfizer would take many risks over the next three years in devoting its energies to penicillin production. The substance was highly unstable, and initial yields were discouragingly low. But Pfizer was determined to succeed in the quest to mass-produce this lifesaving new drug.


In the fall of 1942, Pfizer scientist Jasper Kane suggested a completely different approach, proposing that the company attempt to produce penicillin using the same deep-tank fermentation methods perfected with citric acid. This was tremendously risky because it would require Pfizer to curtail the production of other well-established products while it focused on the development of penicillin. It could also place the company’s existing fermentation facilities in danger of becoming contaminated by the mobile penicillium spores. In a small room in the Brooklyn plant, Pfizer’s senior management team met to weigh the options and took the leap. The team voted to invest millions of dollars, putting their own assets as Pfizer 6) ___ at stake, to buy the equipment and facilities needed for deep-tank fermentation. Pfizer purchased a nearby vacant ice plant, and employees worked around the clock to convert it and perfect the complex production process. The plant was up and running in four months, and soon Pfizer was producing five times more penicillin than originally anticipated.


Penicillin, was, and is, one of the most active and safe antibacterial available. Because of their effectiveness and large therapeutic index, penicillin and many closely related derivatives, collectively known as the PENICILLINS, and the closely related 7) ___ (discovered in the 1960s) are among the most important families of antibacterial available today. Fleming shared the 1945 8) ___ Prize for physiology or medicine with the British scientist Ernst Boris Chain and Australian Howard Walter Florey, who were able to purify and obtain enough penicillin for human trials.


Recognizing the potential of the 9) ___ process for producing penicillin and desperate for massive quantities to aid in the war effort, the U.S. government authorized 19 companies to produce the antibiotic using Pfizer’s deep-tank fermentation techniques, which Pfizer had agreed to share with its competitors. Many of these companies could not come close to Pfizer’s production levels and quality. Ultimately Pfizer produced 10) ___ percent of the penicillin that went ashore with Allied forces at Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and more than half of all the penicillin used by the Allies for the rest of the war, helping to save countless lives.


WW2 medic’s penicillin kit



ANSWERS: 1) Fleming; 2) bacteria; 3) medical; 4) America; 5) drug; 6) stockholders; 7) Cephalosporins; 8) Nobel; 9) Pfizer; 10) 90


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