New drug found in common soil (1948)

It is the first quick cure for typhus - Chloromycetin

Chloromycetin – a new drug found in common soil
It is the first quick cure for typhus: Chloromycetin

In a bit of common soil taken from a Venezuelan field, Yale scientists have found a new and spectacularly successful weapon for the battle of man vs. microbes.

The discovery of the new drug, called Chloromycetin, came (as so many scientific achievements come) from patient, systematic trial and error rather than sudden insight or lucky accident. It was the payoff of a medical treasure hunt in which Yale Botanist P.R. Burkholder examined earth from nearly every country in the world (right) to find new germ-killing molds.

Out of 20,000 molds cultured from 6,000 samples of soil and tested against the germs of virulent diseases, only a few showed any effect. One of the produced the drug Chloromycetin. Purified and tested by Parke, Davis & Co., it proved potent enough to cure lethal scrub typhus in laboratory mice.

The drug’s effectiveness on humans was demonstrated when typhus flared up several months ago in Malaya. Army doctors, using their new found cure, saved every patient they treated. Even more important, they accidentally treated, and cured, two cases of typhoid fever — a disease no other drug had cured before.

ALSO SEE: The race to get enough penicillin (1944)

How many diseases will eventually fall before Chloromycetin is not yet known. More tests may well reveal more cures. But through the drug’s potentialities are still being carefully explored its commercial production is being hastened.

By next spring, Chloromycetin will be in the hands of family doctors to give them their first effective weapon against some of the worst of human diseases.

Photos: Soil samples from all over the world are tested by Botanist Burkholder in Osborn Memorial Laboratories of Yale University. Each sample is mixed with a nutrient substance, which permits mold spores to grow.

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After the minute plants have developed, each species present in that particular soil is transplanted to a separate glass tube and grown as pure culture. The pure strains are then tested against living germs.

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