Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fred J Stock : righteous among the nations ? (Part I)

Part I : the Era of Sulfa has run out of steam...

In May 1943, almost 15 years after the world's best lifesaver - Penicillin G - was first discovered , the whole world was making about a 100 million units of it a month.

That sounds like a lot but it is not at all - that amount of Penicillin G today would be only sufficient to treat one ordinarily sick patient requiring it !

A severely ill patient today requiring penicillin G might need a whole year's worth (1200 million units) at May 1943 production rates.

But May 1943 was hardly ordinary times with ordinary patients - it was the height of WWII , the biggest deadliest war ever seen : a seven ring circus of sickness and injury where the box office never closed.

The only other lifesaver around at that time - the wonderful sulfa drugs - had had a great five year run of success (cheap and easy to make in huge amounts, easy to give to patients) but had now run out of steam and were in grave danger of collapse.

By the Fall of 1942 , the chemists had a convincing scientific explanation for why they had run out of places on the basic sulfa ring to insert new additional  "side chain" molecules, to provide additionalanti-bacterial action via new variants of  sulfa.

So : no new sulfa drugs for germ-killing ---- ever .

The existing ones were now meeting unexpectedly rapid bacterial resistance - the normal solution : up the dosage amount and duration of treatment to overcome that resistance - had revealed just how dangerously toxic the safe sulfa drugs could be at high and prolonged dosages.

A repeat of WWI's deadly combo pandemic of Spanish (viral) Flu and (bacterial) Pneumonia and maybe this time more than a 100 million people (one in twenty) might die.

A huge potential disaster loomed, just offstage.

The problem , as always , was that scientists were in charge of public policy on penicillin - not politicians.

The academic scientists - on penicillin - had made common cause with their normally mortal enemies : Big Pharma.

Penicillin had long been ready to report for war duty - but only as a public domain natural substance made up in medieval brews by rural peasant midwives from mold slime ( I am paraphrasing the scientists' and CEOs' mutual objections here.)

The CEOs were chemically-minded as only executives matured during the chemistry-made interwar years could be and really wanted a synthetic penicillin.

Synthetic means man-made means patents : patents to raise prices and secure world markets free from profit-cutting competitors.

The scientists claimed to abhor profit-making but loved reputation making instead.

And for scientists still unsure if their new found high social status was really secure , it would be a retrograde step for the world's best ever lifesaver to be seen as something a housewife could brew up in their kitchen and apply directly.

Because that meant all its lifesaving prestige would bypass both the male academic basic scientist and the male applied scientists in medical labs and hospital wards.

(For the Gender War raged on , military war or not.)

The OSRD/NAS in America and the MRC in the UK ,dominated by Republican/Conservative Party scientists (for virtually all tenured academics in those years voted Republican or Conservative), controlled the production of penicillin until May 1943.

Their conservative views even continued to dominate the Conservative Ministry of Supply in the UK.

But in America they were soon to be defeated - in great part because they were now to deal with the very New Deal and Democratic Party-oriented War Production Board (WPB) and the formidable head of its Drugs and Cosmetics Branch, Fred J Stock.....

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