U.S., British scientific societies honor penicillin as International Chemical Landmark

The development of penicillin, one of the 20th century's greatest lifesavers, will be honored as an International Historic Chemical Landmark at 11a.m. Friday, Nov. 19 in London. The designation takes place 70 years after the discovery of the drug was first published by Alexander Fleming.

Representatives from the government, academic and private sector research teams that helped move Fleming's discovery from the lab to the hospital will be reunited in London for the designation of the landmark by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemical Society. The last surviving member of the original research team, biochemist Norman Heatley of Oxford University, will be a special guest at the ceremony, to be held at Fleming's laboratory in St. Mary's Hospital, London.

While Fleming's identification of penicillin and its potential uses was first published in 1929, development of a viable drug and the ability to mass-produce it during World War II proved tougher obstacles to surmount. Researchers from Oxford University in England were able to test penicillin in mice and in humans, then sought wartime help in funding, further research, and manufacturing from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions and pharmaceutical company labs. The resulting teamwork was carried forward when, after the U.S. entry into World War II, the government recruited more than 20 chemical companies to mass-produce the drug. The result: Deaths from infected wounds during the war were virtually eliminated, as 95 percent of the wounded soldiers survived.

The American Chemical Society designates important steps in the evolution of chemical science and technology as Historic Chemical Landmarks. "The landmarks program reminds us of the grandeur of chemistry, while underlining that chemistry is a very human enterprise, filled with all triumphs and setbacks of men and women trying to understand the world and make it better," said Ed Wasserman,

Contact: Kathleen Milanich
American Chemical Society

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