|Parke-Davis, as seen from my folks' homes|
Penicillin - in theory - is one such 'ultimate generic drug' , but was it in fact, in 1929 ?
Many strains of various bacteria and molds make penicillin-like beta-lactam materials but most do so in such small quantities that it takes very sensitive testing to discover their existence.
As such, St Mary's hospital in 1929 had the only two known strains of microbes known to make sufficient penicillin to be useful to man.
The original mold had been gathered as part of John Freeman's pioneering studies in allergies.
(Freeman's researches were the only part of the entire Wright-Fleming money-making empire that had any longterm scientific validity - as evidenced by being the only part of the Institute that a drug company, Beecham, was actually willing to part good money for in the 1950s after Fleming and Wright were safely in their graves.)
Spores from Freeman's unique mold had drifted up to Fleming's lab and so the hospital now controlled two copies of the same unique strain of mold.
Parke-Davis lost its chance to remain the world's biggest drug company
The Institute had a close contractual relationship with what was then the world's biggest and best research-oriented drug company - Detroit's Parke-Davis.
(Their enormous ( for their day) research labs were/are clearly visible right across the river from both my parents' home in Windsor Ontario.)
Patents were impossible for natural drugs but hardly needed, for St Mary's/Parke-Davis controlled the only source of the vital reagent needed to make penicillin : their unique strain of penicillium.
Keep that strain in-house and they could have a profitable monopoly forever.
Think this wildly unlikely ?
How do you think today's real penicillin makers still act ?
They develop in-house strains of penicillium and never patent them or share them.
The down-stream techniques after the penicillium express the penicillin juice are/were patented and hence public, for a fee.
But they are useless without a stable, high producing penicillium strain : one can afford to be quite cavalier with one's chemical engineering efficiencies when your unique strain out-produces all your competitors by an order or two of magnitude !
Trade Secrets rather than patents remain the most profitably business method in the biological drug business - now in 2012 as in 1928 .
When Fleming, after he too-quickly dismissed penicillin for systemic use, started freely giving away penicillium spores as a low value lab clearing agent, he ruined any hopes that Parke-Davis and St Mary's might put heavy money in penicillin production and promotion.
Ironically when he thus destroyed the early commercial hopes for penicillin production, his spores out there in the wider medical world, successfully kept the MRC/NAS/OSRD triad from delaying wartime penicillin any longer than they already did....