Thursday, June 18, 2015

Penicillin, as from the Old Testament : capricious to the greedy and the hubristic ; malleable to the righteous

Psalm 51:7 -----  Purge me with Hyssop

To the large (government and industry supported) research teams privately committed to turning natural penicillin into a highly profitable patented MAN-MADE drug with a long shelf life, crude penicillin was a capricious, labile substance with a habit of disappearing as soon as it was produced.

As both their contemporary scientific articles and their later memoirs and biographies made abundantly clear.
Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey, for example, were for once fully in agreement on this accord.

But to the small unofficial clinically-oriented teams solely concerned with saving lives in the here and now, penicillin's reputation for instability was vastly overrated .

One even gets hints that they wondered if this well-publicized reputation of instability was a deliberate lie fostered by people like Florey, Fleming, Merck and the OSRD to keep later competing teams from seriously investigating the wonder drug.

The clinically-oriented teams' contemporary articles found first that the varying PH requirements of the rapidly growing and then hard starving penicillium fungus had to be well regulated, if the penicillin was not to be accidentally destroyed by the fungus itself, as fast as it was produced.

And then if the resulting crude penicillin liquid was kept very cold in a refrigerator, at the appropriate PH for penicillin, it would easily last the few days or weeks needed for it to be used externally or injected via IV/IM drip, on site at their hospital.

Any competent lab tech could handle the whole affair, is how one Australian team described what they felt was the largely routine growing, extraction and storing process.

Amazingly, both accounts of crude penicillin behavior are actually fully correct.

For example, by at least keeping their impure penicillin free of any external chemical reagents, the clinically oriented teams ensured their patients didn't suffer from the many man-made chemical impurities so commonly found in the supposedly purer commercial penicillin !

And they certainly didn't routinely lose most of the crude penicillin - and consume much scarce people-power - trying to extracting all of the harmless water in crude penicillin, merely to later add it all back in again as part of the injection process.

Because one can't inject dry penicillin ----- or dry anything.

Injections need plenty of fluids - basically water dressed up in a fancy name.

And in particular, penicillin works best if very very slowly dripped into a person's blood stream --- that means that crude penicillin is itself already at the right proportions of medicine and water to work well as a slow drip IV or IM.

Impure penicillin is a lot like the impure orange juice that traditionally supplied us with our Vitamin C needs - that tasty fruit juice works at least as well as today's little white synthetic Vitamin C pills do --- and has done so for millions of years.

So what was the reason for the endless mantra (cum lame excuse) of the Allied medical world needing pure penicillin and needing dry penicillin before it could begin to save the dying ?

G R E E D  &  H U B R I S   ---- impure and un-simple.

The only reason why 'pure' penicillin was needed was that pure penicillin is the only form of penicillin that can then be successfully broken down into its constituent parts - and only its constituent parts.

With all - and only all - of its parts known, chemists then thought they could quickly make a patented highly profitable analogue of natural penicillin, much much cheaper than the fungus could.

Americans and the English would hold those patents and then hold the rest of the world to ransom after the war.

But vast amounts of crude penicillin were accidentally destroyed in the processing along the way to yield up a gram or two of nearly 100% pure penicillin.

Then the chemists deliberately destroyed all that pure penicillin, to then look at the resulting constituent sub-parts.

Every one of their many experiments, from start in processing to finishing in destruction, wasted much clinically useful penicillin that could have saved many many precious lives.

Again, for example, briefly in the Spring of 1943 Glaxo was the world's leading penicillin producer - but almost all of that penicillin was then deliberately destroyed in the chemists' fruitless efforts to do something better than stupid little fungus.

Because, yes, old men in white lab coats and sporting PhDs from the best universities, in the middle of a deadly war, are just as capable of indulging in a useless pissing contest as a bunch of teenage louts.

All because they were determined not to let 'stupid' 'simple' fungus (their words) best 'the smartest chemists in the universe'.

Rather than simply buckling down to work with the fungus, as chemists, in an all out effort to make as much natural penicillin as possible - right now ! - to save all the war's dying.

For twenty long wasted years (1928-1948) the world of chemists tried to do something better that the tiny penicillium was already doing perfectly well, before finally publicly admitting defeat.

And the obsession with dry penicillin ?

Well, perfectly dry and hence perfectly stable penicillin was essential if a few huge drug factories were to supply all the vast world's continuing penicillin needs.

Most of the world's penicillin would have to remain viable for months or even years, as it waited to be transported around the world and then sit on warehouse shelfs until needed.

The same reason why most of our food is stuffed with preservative chemicals and shipped in, using much fossil
fuel, from warehouses a world away ----- the greed for seeing all the profits of the food business sit in fewer and fewer hands.

As a Christian, I like to think God took an early private revenge on all these greedy and hubris souls, before a second and more final round at Judgement Day.

Because Man has never been able to commercially best the humble fungus in making penicillin and crude penicillin is still the substrate for 90% of all of today's antibiotics .....

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