Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fleming never saved Churchill, but Gladys Hobby saved Florey's sister when his own penicillin couldn't !

Howard Florey was never more sleazy than in his dealings with Henry Dawson's team, as he desperately fought to restore the family name that his father dis-honored, by trying to remain the sole "hero" of wartime penicillin.

Just try to imagine what an university ethics committee today might say about a professor using his main rival's unpublished paper, sent to him in secret by his close friend (the same government official who censored his rival's paper and forbade its release) to improve his own work that is about to be allowed to be freely published !

That is what full Professor Howard Florey and university vice president and full Professor A N Richards actually did to associate professor chemist Professor Karl Meyer of Dawson's team , in mid 1942.

(As they say, tenure is 'red in tooth and claw'.)

The multi-hatted Professor A Newton Richards was a Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania, head of the medical wing of the OSRD , chief consultant to Merck and one of Howard Florey's best friends.

Like Mayor Rob Ford, he also never met a conflict of interest he could resist.

(By contrast, when Norman Heatley met Meyer in January 1942, Heatley recorded that Meyer was willing to send his data to Florey, but Heatley boldly told his boss (Florey) he (Heatley) won't because it didn't seem right, not if Florey was about to publish and Meyer was forbidden to.)

However, Professor Richards was of a very different moral character and saw nothing wrong in sending Professor Meyer's embargoed chemical work on the structure of penicillin to his main academic rival, Professor Florey.

By contrast, Dawson bent over backwards to try and find a source of penicillin for Florey (even at places like Pfizer - a place Florey determinedly didn't want to visit), totally unaware of Florey's well known reputation in the UK for being an academic bush whacker and a magpie of other people's hard work.

Florey's real (if totally private) reason to come to America in 1941, was mainly to establish that he and Merck, not Dawson and Pfizer, was the real leader in the hunt for viable penicillin.

By late 1942, Florey felt sure that the dying Dawson and Pfizer (having joined Merck's cartel) was out of the race.

Sweet indeed then, when in August 1944, a sullen Howard Florey had to stand politely beside Dawson team member Gladys Hobby as she showed him the natural penicillin poring off the Pfizer lines, while Merck and Florey's team at Oxford had totally failed to produce any synthetic penicillin for the D Day beaches.

Florey had spurned both Pfizer and Glaxo, yet it was they who delivered most of the penicillin that landed on the Normandy beaches that day  --- "the stone the builders rejected" indeed.

Gladys Hobby saves Howard Florey's own sister  -- when he couldn't

Asa series of letters in the Royal Society Archive reveal, in  December 1952, Florey had to eat yet more humble pie, first begging and then thanking Hobby for sending her own latest antibiotic off to save the life of his sister (Hilda Gardner) in Australia when his own penicillin wouldn't work....


  1. Thank you "Evergreen Nova Scotia" for your point about Churchill never saved Fleming from drowning as a kid.

  2. Its a myth that Churchill saved Fleming from drowning
    as a child.