SHAMA, G., 2013. Déjà Vu - the recycling of penicillin in post-liberation Paris. Pharmacy in history, 55 (1), pp. 19 - 27.
Alexander Fleming’s article published in 1929 describing the antibacterial properties of penicillin attracted little interest in the decade or so following its publication. What has been referred to as the ‘silent years’ ended with a resounding rapport when in 1940 an article appeared reporting the chemotherapeutic effects of penicillin and heralding what was to become the birth of the antibiotic age. The research had been conducted by Howard Florey and his co-workers at Oxford University. The intervening years had not in fact been totally silent but had been punctuated by a handful of studies, or rather ‘whispers’, in both Britain and the United States, but none of these was to lead to significant advances.
Florey’s work, then, had immediate impact and was to attract interest from unexpected quarters. In the spring of 1941 the Swiss pharmaceutical company Ciba, wrote directly to him requesting a culture of Fleming’s strain of Penicillium notatum. Florey refused its request, seeing it as a means by which German scientists might gain access to the culture - something he was intent on preventing. He might also possibly have felt some frustration as he had himself at the time been trying to interest British pharmaceutical companies in taking up penicillin production but had not achieved any success. He later refused the Red Cross a culture of the mould on the same grounds.