The editorial mentions two men very important in the history of the discovery of antibiotics, Paul Ehrlich and Alexander Fleming. The first discovered salvarsan, the arsenical drug against syphilis; the second penicillin. Interestingly, the editorial omits a third, equally important name, that of Paul Domagk. It was he who, in 1932, discovered prontosil, the first sulphonamide and the first drug of use in bacterial pneumonia and staphylococcal wound infections. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1939, but he did not rest on his laurels. He later did some of the research that led to the discovery of isoniazid, one of the first antitubercular drugs. So why is the name of this pupil of Ehrleich’s omitted from the editorial?
He discovered prontosil while working at IG Farben, of subsequent infamy. An aura of Nazism surrounds him: the blurb of a history of the discovery, “The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it.” The Nazis did not discover it, though it is true that they conducted notorious experiments in the camps with it.
Besides, Domagk was not a Nazi. Indeed, he was arrested and imprisoned briefly by the Gestapo. The Nazis prevented him from collecting his Nobel Prize, and when he did so in 1947 it was too late for him, under the rules, to receive the money. But perhaps the fact that he did not flee Germany during the Nazi era makes him suspect: so best to play safe and not mention him.
The authors of the editorial come to the implicit conclusion that you should take antibiotics when they are needed, but not otherwise: true of all medicines, in fact. The art is in knowing when it is necessary.
Image and thumbnail courtesy shutterstock / Michal Kowalski
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