Streptomycin is famous (and very important) as the first antimicrobial with significant activity against tuberculosis (TB). (I am aware of at least two of my relatives having received streptomycin treatment for this indication.) Streptomycin is an aminoglycoside antibiotic, and the compound was discovered in the soil bacterium Streptomyces griseus in 1943.
It was marketed by MSD and trialled as an anti-TB drug on patients between 1945 and 1947 before going into full commercial production. It is still used today for the treatment of TB, now mostly as a second line agent.
But who discovered it?
The “hard graft” laboratory work seems to have been done in a basement laboratory at Rutgers University, New Jersey, by Albert Schatz, an American graduate student. The head of the laboratory was Selman Waksman, (a Ukranian who moved to America when he was 22) who co-published the research papers on Steptomycin and helped to promote the drug. (Waksman was also credited with coining the word “antibiotic” and his laboratory went on to discover at least 15 different antibiotics.)
In the late 1940’s disagreement between Waksman and Schatz on the royalties from Streptomycin led to legal action being taken by Schatz, with an out of court settlement being made in 1950.
Waksman (alone) was awarded the Nobel prize in 1952, specifically for the discovery of Streptomycin, an award not received by Schatz.
The dispute is a classical example of the head of a laboratory taking credit for the work of his technical staff, probably because of status and ability to publicise the finding.
The argument over the credit for the discovery of streptomycin continues to this day. Different articles have different slants. For a more detailed article on this dispute, click here.
For once I will just sit on the fence….