Friday, January 18, 2013

Merck has credible excuses for being beaten on D-Day penicillin by Pfizer - but none whatsoever for being crushed by Commercial Solvent

Merck, the OSRD, Florey's Oxford team (all part of the synthetic penicillin obsession) continue to have many defenders among academia.

Yes, one academic excuse goes, yes Merck failed to deliver much penicillin to the D-Day beaches - that was left to Pfizer, which had been a major partner of Merck and Squibb in the three year long effort to produce commercial amounts of penicillin.

But, the excuse went, Pfizer had 20 years of highly successful fermentation experience before late 1941and the commercial penicillin project's beginnings.

But how then to explain the huge success of Commercial Solvents  in producing medical grade penicillin from a cold start in January 1944 to levels twice that of Merck in just four months and then levels six or seven times higher than Merck in just three more months after that?

True, Commercial Solvent had 30 years of success in industrial grade fermentation in making bulk acetone but had never done anything even remote to pharmaceutical levels of purity and cleanliness.

But there it was - passing an increasingly demanding FDA testing requirements with its tens of billions of units of injectable penicillin.

Clearly, the supposedly-arcane craft could be learned fairly quickly, if a corporate culture demanded it.

Even Squibb redeemed itself by well beating Merck's output, by late 1944 .

Merck lost the race for one reason only : hubris.

It thought that since it had synthesized a few 300 molecular weight molecules that all 300 weight biological molecules were a piece of cake.

Tell that to  penicillin with a weight of 334 and still not commercially synthesized.

Or tell it to quinine , molecular weight 324, and 200 years after Man-The-Almighty first started to synthesize it, still without a commercially viable synthesis technique at hand....

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