SMA Centennial

Penicillin Is 65 Years Old!

Authors: Ronald C. Hamdy, MD, FACP, FRCP


The discovery of penicillin marked a turning point in history and dramatically changed the impact of medicine. It is hard to comprehend now the fear that arose from even a minor infection, as treatment often required the lancing of swollen glands and sometimes amputation, in an attempt to save the patient's life. Death from even minor infections was common. The advent of penicillin changed not only the course of medicine, but of society as well, as it permitted physicians to prescribe a medication that could save lives within a few days of its administration.

This content is limited to qualifying members.

Existing members, please login first.

If you have an existing account please login now to access this article or view your purchase options.

Purchase only this article ($15)

Create a free account, then purchase this article to download or access it online for 24 hours.

Purchase an SMJ online subscription ($75)

Create a free account, then purchase a subscription to get complete access to all articles for a full year.

Purchase a membership plan (fees vary)

Premium members can access all articles plus recieve many more benefits. View all membership plans and benefit packages.


1. Fleming A. Discovery of penicillin. Br Med Bull 1944;2:4–5.
2. Macfarlane G. In Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth. Chatto and Windus, 1984.
3. Fleming A. On the antibacterial action of cultures of a penicillium, with special reference to their use in the isolation of b infuenzae. Br J Exp Pathol 1929;10:226–236.
4. Le Fanu J. The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine. Abacus 1999, pp 5–16.
5. Chain E. Thirty years of penicillin therapy. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 1971;179:293–319.
6. Abraham EP, Chain E, Florey HW, et al. Further observations on penicillin. Lancet 1941:177–188.
7. Chain E, Florey HW, et al. Penicillin as a chemotherapeutic agent. Lancet 1940;226–228.
8. Macfarlane G. In Howard Florey: The Making of a Great Scientist. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979.
9. Fletcher C. First clinical use of penicillin. BMJ 1984;289:1721–1723