Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DEMAND SIDE penicillin versus SUPPLY SIDE penicillin

Long ago, it was realized that a University Registrar could often be a high school teacher's best friend.

If, for example in Canada, the Registrar at a big provincial university like the University of Toronto held firm that no one would be admitted to any science undergraduate course without a suitable pass in German, then school board administrators all across the biggest Canadian province of Ontario would dig deeper to pay for properly qualified German language instructors.

Most other provinces, in turn, bowed down to Ontario's greater wisdom and followed suit.

 And even the kids,learning from negative feedback from older siblings and friends who failed to get into university because of poor German, knuckled down and learned the language.

But if the university regulations required German but the Registrar frequently ignored it, then a different sort of feedback got back to school boards, teachers , pupils and parents.

Dawson recognized this as a sort of Demand Side Economics: making penicillin ,like learning university science level German, was bloody difficult, and given any choice, drug companies , like high school kids everywhere, would much rather do something, anything, easier.

But if the paying customers was screaming, money in fist, demanding penicillin and willing to turn to anyone who had it --- even the most stubborn of old school drug firm chemist would reluctantly knuckle down and learn the new skills required - or face the alternative of the unemployment lines.

Dawson focussed on the ultimate customer - the Doctor Mom and offered her a solution to her number one fear in 1940 - Rheumatic Fever.

If he could only publicize his hopes and successes with natural (ie unpatentable) penicillin to her, the public, her demand would push the drug firms to learn that difficult art of growing natural penicillin  in massive quantities.

Members of the public yelling to doctors and druggists and government bureaucrats and the professionals and scientists yelling back is sooooo undignified, so Italian family at suppertime, so Operatic.

But it works and it works quickly - if not quietly.

Florey and his supporters took the exact opposite tack: Supply Side Economics.

"Don't, For God's Sake,tell the public we have had success with patients treated with penicillin - they'll only ask for it for their dying brood- and we haven't yet fully tested it in every imaginable disease and clinical situation."

" We haven't learned its full structure and particular molecular shape and so we haven't yet synthesized it."

"Keep everything secret until we can surprised a delighted and grateful public with fully determined, fully formed, fully patented-up-the-jing-yang artificial penicillin at their local drug store."

This would be the much slower, but much dignified, route - the professionals would appear fully professional - an act they can pull off fairly well, given enough time and money.

The public and the media would appear so supplicant and so grateful to the wonders of science - an act they too had learned very well.

So in 1943-1944, which side won; which form of economics worked the best ???

My ebook, MO goes PO, out October 16th, will tell which side actually got us the D-Day penicillin and which side was nothing but talk....

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