innovation | March 23, 2020

Biotech Entrepreneur Safi Bahcall Explains What the History of Pfizer and Penicillin Teaches Us During the Coronavirus

In his new article for The Wall Street Journal, Loonshots author Safi Bahcall offers us a dose of optimism amid a harrowing newscycle. Industries have come together during times of crisis in the past, shares the bestselling author, and they can do it again for the coronavirus.  

“Stories of battlefield heroism during World War II are well known,” writes Safi Bahcall in The Wall Street Journal. “Lesser known, but relevant for today’s fight against the novel coronavirus, is the story of Pfizer’s Jasper Kane and John McKeen. Kane and McKeen pioneered the mass production of penicillin. Their breakthrough [...] helped reduce the death rate from diseases in the U.S. military to 0.6 per 1,000 in World War II from 14.1 per 1,000 in World War I. That 96% reduction translated into 200,000 lives spared.”


Once a small Brooklyn company best-known for making vitamins, today Pfizer is a pharmaceutical powerhouse thanks to its willingness to invest in the penicillin production problem. “The lesson for industry is that civic duty comes first, rewards come second. Based on its success with penicillin, Pfizer transformed from manufacturing vitamins to developing new therapeutic drugs. That path led to its global expansion and forms the core of its $50 billion business today.”


Today, corporations, governments, and philanthropists are once again joining forces with scientists in a race to develop a coronavirus vaccine. “Public-private partnerships have the potential to save lives and reduce damage to the economy,” notes Bahcall. What they need to accelerate their progress even quicker is a scientific leader in Washington who can help them clear the hurdles they’ll face making the vaccine widely available.


Read the full article here.


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