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Selman Waksman
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Scientist
    (July 22, 1888-August 16, 1973)
    Born in Nova Pryluka, Ukraine
    Biochemist and microbiologist
    Headed a lab that developed fifteen antibiotics, including streptomycin and neomycin
    Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1952)
    He convinced Albert Schatz, the graduate student who first isolated streptomycin and was credited as co-inventor (with Waksman) on the patent for the drug, to sign over his patent rights to the Rutgers Research and Endowment Foundation.
    He then secretly negotiated a deal with the Foundation to receive 20% of the royalties on the patent.
    When Schatz complained that Waksman was taking an undue share of the credit for the discovery, he condescendingly replied, ‘Your own share in the solution of the streptomycin problem was only a small one. You were one of many cogs in a great wheel in the study of antibiotics in this laboratory.’
    Schatz sued, eventually receiving an out of court settlement of $120,000 and 3% of the annual royalties. (Waksman’s share was reduced to 10%, while 7% was divided among 26 students and lab technicians who had contributed to the development of the drug.)
    He organized a systematic search for antibiotics, unlike Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of the antibiotic properties of penicillin.
    Streptomycin was the first effective treatment for tuberculosis.
    One of his graduate students said, ‘He was wise, demanding, yet understanding. He was not pretentious.’
    He funneled much of the royalties he received back into the university, establishing and funding the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers.
    He was married to Deborah Mitnik for 57 years.

Credit: C. Fishel


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