Published by BBC NEWS - 3rd July 2023
  • Published
Albert Alexander

The family of the first patient to be treated with penicillin hope his story will inspire pharmaceutical companies to develop new life-saving antibiotics.

Albert Alexander, who was born in Woodley, Berkshire, was treated with penicillin in Oxford in 1941, demonstrating its beneficial effects.

He was injured when serving as a police officer during World War Two.

His 89-year-old daughter is due to join antibiotic experts at a conference in Glasgow to tell her ancestor’s story.

Sheila LeBlanc, along with Mr Alexander’s two granddaughters, will attend the World Congress of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology in the Scottish city on Monday.

They travelled from their hometown Redlands, in California, to take part in the event.

The event follows previous research published in 2022 revealing that more than 1.2 million people died worldwide in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

UK health officials previously warned antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was a “hidden pandemic” that could emerge in the wake of Covid-19 unless antibiotics were prescribed responsibly.

Mr Alexander’s family said the problem needed to be dealt with and people were “taking antibiotics for granted”.

Sir Alexander Fleming, pictured in 1954

Image source, Getty Images

Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 at St Mary’s Hospital in London, but scientists in Oxford developed it into a viable drug.

Mr Alexander, who was a police officer, was on duty when he was injured in an air raid in Southampton and developed blood poisoning.

He was transferred to Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary, where he was treated with the newly-discovered antibiotic, and showed immediate improvement.

But penicillin could not be isolated in time to complete the cure and he died on 15 March 1941.

However, the episode proved penicillin worked on humans and many other people who were injured during the war in the following years benefitted from the antibiotic.

Professor Michael Barrett, a microbiologist at the University of Glasgow, said when looking at the impact of penicillin on the war “timing was everything”.

He added: “By having Albert there in that condition to treat at that time and to show the potential to work we probably shaved a year off the Second World War.”

But professor Barrett has said there is currently not enough investment into new antibiotics and he has warned that this could lead to a potential crisis.

He will join Mr Alexander’s family at the conference in Glasgow.

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