Today writing a prescription for penicillin has become so routine for doctors that many in the field of medicine are warning that the drug’s overuse could encourage penicillin-resistant “super bugs.” Seventy-five years ago, however, doctors could only dream of the mass production of the life-saving drug.
In 1928 when Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered a mold that killed bacteria, European scientists were excited about the potentially life-saving breakthrough. While scientists managed to produce enough of the experimental drug for clinical trials, efforts to mass-produce the mold Fleming had named “Penicillin” proved unsuccessful.
The outbreak of WWII in 1939 brought a new urgency to find a way to produce vast quantities of Fleming's penicillin.
|Andrew J. Moyer|
|U.S. Student Army Training Corps, Wabash College 1918|
After graduation at Wabash, he spent a year at the
microbial nutrition. Over the next several years he continued his studies in
plant pathology and fungi growth at University
of Wisconsin North Dakota
and the University of Maryland, , earning more degrees including a doctorate. For
the next decade he worked as a mycologist with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture studying the genetic and biochemical properties of fungi. In 1940
he began work with the USDA on industrial application of agricultural sciences. College
With WWII raging in Europe, two scientists from
Howard Florey and Norman Heatley brought a small sample of Flemings Penicillin
mold to the ,
hoping to work with American scientists toward mass-production of the drug. At
a laboratory in U.S. , Heatley was assigned to work with
Moyer. Drawing on his earlier work with agricultural fungi, Moyer suggested
using corn steep liquor to help grow the mold and use lactose instead of
glucose in the process. It worked, expanding the yields of penicillin
exponentially. Peoria, Illinois
|Andrew J. Moyer in lab|
For the next three years, Moyer worked to refine the process and in 1944 the first commercial plant producing penicillin opened in
. By June and the D-Day invasion of Brooklyn, New
York , 2.3 million
doses of penicillin were ready for the Allied forces, saving an estimated 12 to
15 per cent of Allied lives. Normandy
|Penicillin Factory, Brooklyn, N.Y.|
Andrew Moyer’s process of mass producing penicillin not only saved countless lives, but also lowered the price of the drug from $20.00 a dose in 1943 to fifty-five cents a dose three years later. His process for producing penicillin became a model for mass production of all other antibiotic fermentations.
So the next time your doctor prescribes a form of penicillin or other form of antibiotic to treat an infection remember Andrew J. Moyer, an unlikely farm boy from Indiana who made the medicine both possible and affordable.
Ramona K. Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories in her home state of
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