Alexander Fleming and the Miracle Drug Penicillin


Not every scientific discovery is the result of decades of research. Coincidences can also play a big role sometimes.

Alexander Fleming Biography and Contributions to Science

More soldiers died from infection during World War I than died fighting. This is due to the bacteria that cause the disease. Discovered by Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928 as the first antibiotic, penicillin ushered in a new era in medicine. This discovery was made purely by accident.

Alexander Fleming had been out of his London laboratory for a few days. The bacteriologist had left open several dishes where the staph bacteria he was working on had grown. Something caught her eye when he came back and started cleaning up the old bacterial plaque. A black mold had formed on the gel used to grow bacteria in a bacteria dish. The interesting point was that there were no bacteria in the area where the mold was found. This indicated that something in the mold was killing the bacteria. After a series of tests, Fleming found that the mold, which he had diagnosed as Penicillium notatum, secreted a hitherto unknown substance with antibiotic properties. Fleming called this substance “penicillin”.

Alexander Fleming published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in June 1929. However, the response he received was not very positive. Fleming mentioned that penicillin is a potential natural antiseptic and can kill septic and pneumonia germs. But he made no claims about its use as a general-purpose antibiotic. Over the next decade, Fleming lost interest in penicillin. According to him, penicillin could not last long enough in the body and could not cause much change. On the other hand, things changed ten years later when an Australian pharmacologist from the University of Oxford and a German biochemist named Ernst Chain came across Fleming’s work.


Howard Florey, Ernst Chain’s work on the purification of penicillin began in 1939, precisely under conditions of World War II that made scientific research extremely difficult. Howard Florey did some experiments the following year that showed that penicillin protected mice against infection with deadly streptococcal bacteria. The first use of penicillin in a human was on February 12, 1941.

Albert Alexander, a 43-year-old policeman, contracted an infection while trimming his garden and was in danger of dying. Albert Alexander was injected with penicillin. The patient began to show signs of improvement within a few days. However, Albert Alexander died a few days later because they did not have enough penicillin and the patient could not be given any more. However, it was undeniable that the drug proved to be effective. At this time, when the entire chemical industry was focused on the war, large quantities of penicillin were not possible in England. That is why Florey and his colleague Norman Heatley went to the United States to attract the interest of the American pharmaceutical industry in the production of penicillin. Florey and Heatley,

Alexander Fleming Biography and Contributions to Science

Expansion of penicillin production

The first factory for the production of penicillin was opened on March 1, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. Meanwhile, clinical studies in soldiers and civilians confirmed the therapeutic effects of penicillin. The drug has been found to be effective in treating a wide variety of infections, including streptococcal, staphylococcal, and gonococcal infections. Over time, the effectiveness of penicillin in syphilis was revealed. All this has increased the demand for the miracle drug.

The increase in production gained momentum in 1944-45. That same year, Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain received the Nobel Prize for their research on penicillin. It began to be sold by prescription on June 1, 1946 in England. The rapid increase in production caused a decrease in the price of the drug. The transformation of penicillin into an easily accessible treatment for the public has also allowed this invention to save the lives of millions of people.

The inscription found on a stone commemorating the penicillin team outside the Oxford University Botanic Garden ends with the words: “All mankind is grateful to them.” Groundbreaking scientific discoveries are often not the work of people working alone, true eureka moments in history are rare. Howard Florey later said, “The development of penicillin, like most of these things, was a team effort.” We also recommend that you watch the movie “Rompiendo Moldes – Breaking the Mold”, which was made in 2009 on the subject.


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