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Penicillin and the European response to post-war American hegemony: the case of Leo-penicillin

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In post-war years, penicillin played a fundamental role in radically changing the system of pharmaceutical research and production, with US firms and research centres taking the lead. As with other areas of science and technology it also became a domain in which European actors sought to adapt to and counter US policies and practices of hegemony, becoming part of a broader pattern of US–European relationships during the Cold War. Three European companies succeeded in catching up with the Anglo-American companies and became large antibiotics producers. This paper reconstructs the story of one of them, Løvens Kemiske Fabrik (now Leo Pharma), and of its Leo-penicillin, focusing on previously unexplored material from Leo Pharma corporate archives and on other archival sources. Løven’s case is particularly interesting, because the Danish firm had no substantial pre-war expertise in fermentation, the key technical skill required in penicillin production. More specifically, the argument is that the choices of pharmaceutical companies played a major role in the European answer to the invasion of American penicillin, finding market, rather than state-sponsored, methods to counter US hegemony. This response, though, also highlighted the limits of European capabilities in the 1940s and the early 1950s.
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Keywords: Løvens Kemiske Fabrik; antibiotics; catch up; hegemony; post-war Europe

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-04-03

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