20 August, 2008

Howard Florey: a pioneer of penicillin therapy

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Photo:Dr. Howord Florey(1898-1968)

quoted from the book "Howard Florey; the making of
a great scientist. Oxford University Press.1980"

In August 1941, The Lancet reported the important article
in the history of clinical medicine, entitled “ Further
observations of Penicillin”, by the researchers at Sir William
Dunn School of Pathology and the Radcliffe Infirmary,Oxford.

The total pages were 13 pages.
It contained;
1) the culture method of penicillium mould
2) the purification of penicillin from culture media
3) inhibition of penicillin on 30 types of bacterias
4) absorption and excretion of penicillin in animal and human
5) toxicity tests of penicillin
6) first clinical trials of penicillin for 10 patients with bacterial

The strength of this "pure" form of penicillin was up to 40-50
units per mg (one mg of pure penicillin in a crystalline contains
about 1,650 Oxford units) and it prevented the growth of staphy-
lococci in a dilution of at least 1 per 1 million. They obtained 1.0g
(45,000 units) of penicillin from 100 litters of culture media and
2/3 were lost during purification, because the penicillin are very
unstable molecules.

The leader was Professor Howard Florey, who had no intention
to obtain the license of penicillin. At that time, England was
the shortage of any materials. Dr. Florey and Heatley went to
asking for the aide of America for the mass production of Penicillin.
The US government and drug companies such as Merck co.
cooperated him. Later, Pfizer used deep fermentation methods
for the mass production of Penicillium mould.

On The D-Day invasion, US had the capacity of the penicillin
production for 40,000 patients/month, which most of penicillin

I highly recommend for students in Medicine or life science to
read this The Lancet article (Abraham EP, Chain E, Fletcher CM, Florey
HW,Gardner AD, Heatley NG, Jennings MA,: Further observations on Penicillin.
The Lancet 238:177-188, August 16, 1941) and to learn their pioneer
spirits and collaborative works.

Any questions: write to Keiji Hagiwara, MD