Thursday, January 17, 2013

Howard Florey, Henry Dawson,Penicillin and the NEW YORK TIMES : how then-tiny Pfizer became the biggest drug company in the world

"Giant Germicide" article changed history ...
Myth much to the contrary, Howard Florey went to America in 1941 not looking for a way to save lives, but for a way to save Allied military lives without having to save Axis, Neutral or Allied civilian lives : he was looking for a top secret medical bomb, a weapon of war.

Since publicity and top secret war weapons don't mix , this explains why when the New York Times sought to interview him upon his arrival on July 3rd 1941, fresh off the Pan Am Clipper, he curtly declined their kind offer and said nothing at all.

(Imagine : the most influential newspaper in the world offering to be your conduit for telling all of America's political and business leaders about penicillin's potential and you toss it aside like an used condom ! )

Perhaps as a result of his playing hard to get, Florey never did get the kilogram of pure penicillin that he sought so hard on this trip, because he had no public pressure backing his private appeal.

By way of contrast, Dr Henry Dawson did take his belief in penicillin's "unlimited potential" (his words) to a huge public medical conflab, attended by many of the world's science and health journalists, and got lots of publicity (as far away as South Africa) about his expansive belief in penicillin.

The New York Times article that changed history ...

Among the media who reported Dawson's comments was the New York Times , which splashed his optimistic views ("Giant Germicide") near the business section of the paper.

Next morning, some busy-- important---executive at then-tiny Pfizer chanced to read about a potential drug he had never heard of over his breakfast table ..... and the rest is history.

That same history reminds us that 90% of the penicillin that landed on the D-Day beaches in the first crucial mass clinical trial of penicillin came from Pfizer and Pfizer alone.

The one drug company in America that Florey had NOT visited on his search for his kilo.

The one drug company that Dawson did approach, ironically because he was merely seeking to help the churlish Florey.

So : "the stone the builder rejected", redeemed by an article in the New York Times.

That is the power of journalism, of publicity and of the New York Times.....

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