Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug

Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug

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by Peter Pringle
     
 

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In 1943, Albert Schatz, a young Rutgers College Ph.D. student, worked on a wartime project in microbiology professor Selman Waksman’s lab, searching for an antibiotic to fight infections on the front lines and at home. In his eleventh experiment on a common bacterium found in farmyard soil, Schatz discovered streptomycin, the first effective cure for

Overview

In 1943, Albert Schatz, a young Rutgers College Ph.D. student, worked on a wartime project in microbiology professor Selman Waksman’s lab, searching for an antibiotic to fight infections on the front lines and at home. In his eleventh experiment on a common bacterium found in farmyard soil, Schatz discovered streptomycin, the first effective cure for tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

As director of Schatz’s research, Waksman took credit for the discovery, belittled Schatz’s work, and secretly enriched himself with royalties from the streptomycin patent filed by the pharmaceutical company Merck. In an unprecedented lawsuit, young Schatz sued Waksman, and was awarded the title of “co-discoverer” and a share of the royalties. But two years later, Professor Waksman alone was awarded the Nobel Prize. Schatz disappeared into academic obscurity.

For the first time, acclaimed author and journalist Peter Pringle unravels the intrigues behind one of the most important discoveries in the history of medicine. The story unfolds on a tiny college campus in New Jersey, but its repercussions spread worldwide. The streptomycin patent was a breakthrough for the drug companies, overturning patent limits on products of nature and paving the way for today’s biotech world. As dozens more antibiotics were found, many from the same family as streptomycin, the drug companies created oligopolies and reaped big profits. Pringle uses firsthand accounts and archives in the United States and Europe to reveal the intensely human story behind the discovery that started a revolution in the treatment of infectious diseases and shaped the future of Big Pharma.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Parry skillfully relates an important tale of a life-saving scientific discovery tarnished by egotism and injustice. (May)
From the Publisher

“A classic in the history of science. With forensic skill and narrative virtuosity, Pringle has at last told the true story of streptomycin; gripping in all the best ways.” —Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Rational Optimist

“Peter Pringle has done it again. The story of Experiment Eleven is amazing, but no more so than his brilliant reporting, narrative verve and cool command of scientific ideas.” —Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

“Peter Pringle's excellent book Experiment Eleven details how a simple discovery dominated and remodelled the lives of both these two scientists. It tells of a bitter legal fight over credit and a misallocated Nobel prize. And, like the best of dramas, it reaches outwards, to illuminate scientific behaviour at the time, and forwards, to change our perceptions of scientific ethics today.” —Peter A. Lawrence, Current Biology, Vol 22 No 7

“Riveting history of the discovery of one of the most important drugs of the last century…. [Pringle] skillfully relates an important tale of a life-saving scientific discovery tarnished by egotism and injustice.” —Publishers Weekly

“Pringle tells a complex tale of scientific intrigue…. A gripping account of academic politics and the birth of the pharmaceutical industry. ” —Kirkus Reviews

“Pringle exposes the roles of personality, power, and the pharmaceutical industry in the process of medical research. Even in science, the truth can be tricky.” —Tony Miksanek, Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
Pringle (The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov, 2008, etc.) tells a complex tale of scientific intrigue. The stage was set in 1943, when the future Nobel Laureate Selman Waksman headed the Department of Soil Microbiology at Rutgers University and President Roosevelt launched a major initiative to identify and develop antibiotics to treat animals and humans and to deal with the potential threat of biological warfare. Among the graduate students in the department was Albert Schatz, who was analyzing soil samples in an attempt to find an antibiotic that would cure tuberculosis. In his 11th experiment he succeeded, isolating two strains of a microbe--one from a soil sample and the other from a throat culture taken from a chicken's throat--given to him by a fellow graduate student. In fact, he had discovered the drug later to be named Streptomycin. Pringle gives a fascinating account of the steps on the road to turning it into a pharmaceutical--determining its effectiveness, testing for toxicity and side-effects, etc. Although the first announcement of the discovery was made jointly by the professor and his graduate student, Waksman began taking sole credit, pressuring Schatz into relinquishing patent rights to Rutgers and hiding the fact that he was being paid a significant percentage of the royalties. Ultimately, Schatz sued Waksman, and an out-of-court financial settlement was reached. Though it acknowledged Schatz's part in the discovery, Waksman's reputation and prestige remained intact and he alone was awarded a Nobel Prize. A gripping account of academic politics and the birth of the pharmaceutical industry.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802717740
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
05/08/2012
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Pringle is a veteran British foreign correspondent and the author of several nonfiction books, including Food, Inc. and Those Are Real Bullets, Aren't They? He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the Nation.

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Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
eques More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking description of an important medical discovery made by a graduate student under the direction of a highly-experienced senior scientist.