Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drugby Peter Pringle
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
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.
“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
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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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Thought-provoking description of an important medical discovery made by a graduate student under the direction of a highly-experienced senior scientist.