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[Perspectives] Rediscovering penicillin

“When a new drug is introduced, take it quickly, because it doesn’t work very long”. This quietly cynical mantra was common among scientifically minded 19th-century doctors who were critical of the pharmaceutical armamentarium at their disposal. They were happy to identify themselves as therapeutic sceptics, or even nihilists. Even the uniformly cheerful Sir William Osler (1849–1919) thought the best medical practice would mostly use tried and trusted remedies, such as iron, opium, and digitalis.