Monday, February 1, 2016

Why no numbers on British penicillin targets 1942-1944 ?

One hardly had to wait for academic articles, buried in obscure journals and published 7o years later, to find out the actual projected targets - in billions of units of penicillin by month, month by month, bandied about for the amount of penicillin American hoped to produce in 1943-1944.

The CMR and COC, along with various branches of the WPB (War Production Board) and of the Army, all had their say - often in the front pages of the popular newspapers of the day.

But seventy five years on, we still can't read any popular or academic article detailing the expected penicillin targets that the General Penicillin Committee of Britain's MOS (Ministry of Supply, the Uk's WPB equivalent) set in the months and years between the Fall of 1942 and late into 1945.

I am not surprised that British academics and journalists agreed amongst themselves to bury the lead on this highly embarrassing story in an unmarked grave - but American authors have been no better.

I expect to make a trip to the UK's penicillin archives  later this year - I hope I can find - and then quickly publish - some hard figures.

For now, this evasive non-answer to a MP's direct question for actual penicillin target figures (from MOS head, Sir Andrew Duncan, MP for the City of London and thus representing the financial elements of Britain) in the House of Commons Hansard for December 20th 1944, is typical :

Yes, Sir. Many British manufacturers are now making penicillin or are making arrangements to do so and any firm licensed for this purpose under the terms of the Therapeutic Substances Act will be given every encouragement to manufacture. It would be premature to give estimates of our production of penicillin in a year's time but it will be substantial, though less than American production, and it will not only meet military needs but provide large quantities for civilian purposes.

(I have rendered the time-honoured weasel words in italics.)

 In fact, while the British discovered the golden stuff, they were  soon reduced to begging the Americans for more of it via Lend-lease.

Sir Duncan was Alexander Fleming's friend and Duncan's penicillin committee included Fleming and all the other leading lights of British penicillin so there is - to adapt Michael Bliss - blame enough for all.

And Labour's Clem Atlee was at least as negligent as the Conservatives' Sir Duncan in the UK's wartime penicillin production fiasco.....

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