The Antibiotic Age (1945-19705)
The discovery that a fungus could produce penicillin initiated a massive world-wide search in the 1940s for new fungal strains to see whether they contained novel antibiotics. The antibiotic age has been instrumental in allowing the many surgical advances that have taken place since the war. The antibiotic revolution has resulted in people living healthier and longer lives, with life expectancy almost doubling. Advances were made in developing synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs, particularly in the area of semi-synthetic penicillins. The original penicillins had several drawbacks in that they had to be injected and had a limited range of activity. β-Lactamases are bacterial enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of the β-lactam ring and thus deactivate penicillin. As a result, important semi-synthetic penicillins such as ampicillin and amoxycillin were discovered. The discovery of a large arsenal of antibacterial agents has been one of medicine’s great success stories and has removed the dread of infection, which was so common in previous generations.