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Narratives

Exhibition Label: 'Back from the Dead: Demystifying Antibioics' 04.11.2016 - 21.05.2017. Consumption case.

Penicillin was precious in Oxford in 1941. In order to ensure that none of the drug was wasted, patient urine was collected in hospital and carried back to the laboratory by bicycle. Lady Florey was often the courier for this so-called “P patrol”. Any remaining penicillin was extracted from the urine so it could be injected into the patient again (1).

The much larger scale of production in America depended on innovative manufacturing methods. The concentration of penicillin in United States drug trials was nevertheless initially measured in ‘Florey Units’ (2), and equivalent ‘Oxford Units’ were later adopted. Amongst mass-produced vials from the largest American penicillin plant one still has its prescription label showing it was used to treat a solider, Private Blanchard (3).

1. Sample of penicillin recovered from urine, Oxford, 1941. Museum of the History of Science; inv. 14439.
2. Penicillin for initial American trials, by Merck & Co. Inc, New Jersey. On loan from Science Museum, London; acc. 1964-458/1.
3. Penicillin vials and cartons, by Commercial Solvents Corporation, Indiana. On loan from Science Museum, London; acc. 1984-1089/1 and 1984-1089/3.

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