Scientific advances vaccine research and modern vaccine development

Prior to 1900, five human vaccines - against smallpox, rabies, typhoid, cholera, and plague - had been developed. Seven more were developed in the early twentieth century as a result of important discoveries about toxoid-producing bacteria that led to the development of "toxoid" vaccines. Further work in attenuation led to the creation of the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) strain used in the tuberculosis vaccine, and E.W. Goodpasture's introduction of a technique for growing viruses in fertile hens' eggs made possible the development of influenza and yellow fever vaccines and then, by extension of the technique following the discovery of rickettsiae, of a vaccine against typhus (Plotkin and Orenstein, 2004).

After World War II, more than two dozen new vaccines were developed. Referred to as the "golden age" of vaccine development, the second half of the twentieth century was a period of great achievement in the field of immunization. Key to this success was the introduction of cell-culture techniques that made it possible to grow and propagate human viruses in a laboratory with relative ease, for which John Enders, Thomas Weller, and Frederick Robbins received the Nobel prize in 1954 (Smith, 1990; Plotkin and Orenstein, 2004). Other important advances included the development of vaccines to bacterial proteins and polysaccharides, the creation of conjugate vaccines, and, more recently, advances in genomics that have led to the development of recombinant vaccines (Wilson and Marcuse, 2001; Plotkin and Orenstein, 2004).

This age was golden in other ways as well. It was also a period of unparalleled national leadership. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was himself the victim of what would become, thanks in large part to his efforts, a vaccine-preventable disease. Having contracted paralytic polio in 1921, FDR became a key advocate and supporter of research to help victims of polio and to find a vaccine to prevent polio from claiming more lives. Seeing the continued devastation of polio epidemics, the then President Roosevelt established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and enlisted the nation's help in the campaign against polio. FDR asked people to send dimes to the White House, and the effort became the "March of Dimes." Funds raised by the Foundation were used to support research to develop a polio vaccine. These efforts paid off. Jonas Salk, whose research was supported by the Foundation, successfully developed the first polio vaccine and demonstrated its efficacy in national field trials in 1954. Eight years later, the oral polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin, also with support from the Foundation, was licensed. In 1979 the Foundation changed its name to the March of Dimes, as it is known today (March of Dimes, 2006).

Industry leadership also played an important role in basic and applied research and product development. A key innovator was Maurice Hilleman, a researcher and leader at Merck for more than 27 years, who led the development of numerous vaccines, including rubella, varicella, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and combination vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (Merck, 2005).

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