From C&EN Archives | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 91 Issue 36 | pp. 34-37
Issue Date: September 9, 2013

Cover Stories: Nine For Ninety

From C&EN Archives: Antibiotics

Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: antibacterial drugs, antibiotics, pharmaceutical companies, antibiotic resistance

The Antibiotic Age After his work on the discovery of streptomycin—research that garnered him the Nobel Prize in 1952—Selman A. Waksman became a popular speaker across the country. A 1950 story summarizes a talk given by Waksman at a scientific meeting in Detroit (C&EN, Oct. 30, 1950, page 3774). Reflecting on the great number of new antibacterial agents discovered and developed in the 1940s, he referred to the decade as the “antibiotic age.” He was so excited about the successes that he “held out hope for the eventual control of all infectious diseases through development and use of more and better antibiotics.”

Flower Bed Antibiotic During the early days of antibacterial discovery, drugs moved from the laboratory to the clinic much faster than they do today. According to a 1958 story, kanamycin, a member of the aminoglycoside class, reached market in about a year (C&EN, July 28, 1958, page 24). Scientists discovered the compound in a microbe living in soil outside Nagoya University in Japan: “Out of a Japanese flower bed has emerged mankind’s newest weapon against disease.”

Mobilizing Penicillin In 1943, pharmaceutical companies were producing as much penicillin as they could to send to the front lines of World War II. A story from scientists at Pfizer explains the history of the “miracle drug,” their efforts to make it on a large scale, and the effects of treatment on patients (C&EN, Sept. 10, 1943, page 1429). The article contains photographs showing the scale of the operations, such as a room filled with fermentation flasks containing the penicillin-producing fungus.

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