Friday, November 30, 2012

Would penicillin have been available for patients in 1930, if Fleming had produced his '29 paper - and then died ?

If only pneumonia had killed Alec, not John....
Imagine - if you will - that you're at a medical meeting - one of hundreds and hundreds that Alexander Fleming routinely attended between the Fall of 1928 and the Fall of 1942 and you happen to overhear Fleming regaling a small audience in the corridor about his 'wonderful' penicillin.

It is, he says (translated into today's medical terminology) a wide spectrum totally non-toxic anti-bacterial agent , the only one he as ever seen that doesn't harm the natural healing powers of the body's blood.

It is, Fleming says with great force , simply a great lab clearing agent for vaccine studies and potentially a useful antiseptic...

....And ? AND ?!  You wait for the other shoe to drop, somewhat impatiently : how is it as a systemic, for saving those dying from bacterial infections ?

Oh that, says Fleming indifferently , its useless for that.

And, he adds brutally honestly , as an antiseptic it is slow acting and is so unstable that it will only be useful if the chemists can synthesize it - but they haven't so far.

For fourteen years , I believe only one man stood between penicillin the potential life-saver for millions and penicillin the actual life saver for millions and that man was - unfortunately - Alexander Fleming.

The history of penicillin might have been quite different if only he and not his brother John had died of the pneumonia that Fleming's 1928 imperfect penicillin would have cured.

I can not believe that Fleming could offer such frequent public build-ups of his wonderful penicillin without someone in the audience venturing : well how do you rate its life-saving systemic qualities then ?

Fleming in his honest (but incorrect) way , would have had to say in public what he deliberately omitted from his published articles : 'as a systemic, I believe that penicillin is useless'.

This - more than anything someone else did or didn't do - dammed penicillin to wander useless in the desert for 15 years : its own discoverer damning it with the very faintest of praise ....

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