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Sir Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming
(1881—1955)

Discoverer of penicillin

Fleming is famous for his discovery of penicillin, possibly the single biggest drug advance in the history of medicine, but which came about by what he called a ‘triumph of accident and shrewd observation’. He saw that a culture of staphylococcus bacteria had accidentally become infected with mould, and the mould, Penicillum notatum, which commonly grows on stale food, was killing the bacteria. Tests showed it to have unprecedented antibacterial properties while being harmless to human cells. It took another 15 years to find a manufacturing process. Fleming won the Nobel Prize in 1945. Displaying a morality sadly rare in medical research today, Fleming never patented his discovery so it could remain cheap and widely available to benefit as many people as possible.