February 8, 2013
Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug
American Philosophical Society | Visit site »
Location: Benjamin Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut Street
Peter Pringle is the author of several nonfiction books, including The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov and Food, Inc., and co-author of the bestselling Those Are Real Bullets. A veteran British foreign correspondent, he has written for The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The rift between eminent microbiologist Selman Waksman and his brilliant graduate student Albert Schatz was a spectacular fallout in the annals of science. In this riveting history of the discovery of one of the most important drugs of the last century—streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis—journalist Pringle (Food, Inc.) argues that the story of the co-discoverers of the antibiotic is a fascinating human as well as scientific drama. Pringle not only recaps the split between the Rutgers researchers but the part played by the pharmaceutical giant Merck, which Waksman consulted for and which filed the scientists’ patent application and then leased the rights from Rutgers to make the drug. Streptomycin led to countless happy endings, not least for Waksman, who claimed the spotlight for himself, leaving Schatz ignored and bitter. When Waksman worked out a deal to reap 20% of Rutgers’s take of the royalties, Schatz turned to the courts to reclaim his co-inventor status. Pringle skillfully relates an important tale of a life-saving scientific discovery tarnished by egotism and injustice.