Penicillin and Luck:
Good Fortune in the Development of the ‘Miracle Drug’

by Norman Heatley

Penicillin and Luck is based on a talk given by Norman Heatley at Rockefeller University in 1989 on the role of luck and chance in the development of penicillin.

Norman Heatley was a key member of the Oxford team under Howard Florey that developed the life-saving drug penicillin during World War II. Under the severe privations of wartime Britain, Heatley’s inventiveness and ingenuity in extracting and purifying penicillin (using, for example, bedpans from the Radcliffe Infirmary to grow the mould artificially) produced enough of the drug to use in the first clinical trials on humans in 1941. The team then shared its knowledge with American pharmaceutical companies, enabling them to mass-produce the drug in time for the final stages of the war.

The stone memorial outside the Oxford Botanic Garden commemorating the work of the penicillin team concludes with the words: “All mankind is in their debt.”

Huxley Scientific Press makes an annual donation from the proceeds of the sale of the booklet to the Norman Heatley Memorial Fund, which was set up to establish a postdoctoral research award at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, where the original penicillin work was carried out.