University of Sheffield

First use of penicillin as a therapy

The first documented use of penicillin as a therapy was carried out in Sheffield in 1930 by Cecil George Paine, a member of the Pathology Department.

He treated eye infections in two babies with a crude filtrate from a penicillin-producing mould supplied by Alexander Fleming, his lecturer when he studied medicine at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London.

Fleming had published details of his fundamental discovery of penicillin as an antibacterial agent in 1929, but its therapeutic potential had not been much pursued.

Paine did, however, mention his findings to Fleming and to Howard Florey, then Professor of Pathology (1932–35) at the Sheffield Medical School.

Florey went on, with a team at Oxford, to purify penicillin; conducting the first ever clinical trial of penicillin in 1941 – a drug which would go on to save more than 82 million lives worldwide.

Inspired by Florey’s pioneering work, the University of Sheffield’s Florey Institute strives to make life-saving advances in understanding how infectious agents interact with their hosts to cause disease and to translate these discoveries into new treatments.

Further reading