Type of innovation: Vaccine
Innovation leader: Grifols i Roig, Josep Antoni
Vaccines have been used since the beginning of the 20th century to prevent diseases. In fact, one of Josep Antoni Grifols i Roig's first activities at his Laboratorio de Análisis Clínicos was to develop autovaccines and preventative vaccines.
An autovaccine was a serum made from the blood from an infected patient, which was introduced back into the same person. The infectious agent was diluted or inactivated to reduce or eliminate its harmful effects. Once ingested or injected, it helped the patient to develop immunity against the causative agent of the disease.
Preventative vaccines, on the other hand, were administered to healthy subjects in order to stop them from being infected with the disease in the first place.
A deadly disease
And there was an urgent need for effective measures against contagious diseases in Barcelona in the first decades of the 1900s. Contamination of water, poor hygiene and inadequate garbage disposal meant that communicable diseases regularly took a dreadful toll on the population, with 2,500 deaths from typhoid in 1914 alone. Dr. Grifols i Roig was himself working to combat these regular outbreaks by developing his own preventative vaccine.
His initial efforts were based on the work of André Chantemesse and involved introducing typhoid's causative agent–the Eberth bacillus (or Salmonella typhi)–into healthy patients. Grifols i Roig made gradual improvements to the treatment by devising ways to administer ever-greater concentrations.
“Grifols i Roig realized that he could produce an innovative artificial vaccine from the Vi antigen, which would be far more potent in the fight against typhoid”
The key breakthrough
His work took a dramatic leap forward in 1935, thanks to the discovery of the Vi antigen present in the bacillus by Felix and Pitt the previous year. Antigens are chemical markers which antibodies –part of the body's natural defense mechanism– lock onto to inactivate the disease-causing agent.
That same year, Perry, Findlay and Bensted showed that the more virulent the antigen used, the greater the immunizing capacity the vaccine created from it. The Vi antigen's very name was chosen due to its very high virulence, so Dr. Grifols i Roig realized that he could produce an innovative artificial vaccine from the Vi antigen which would be far more potent in the fight against typhoid.
Grifols i Roig registered his innovative vaccine on January 30, 1936, and produced it jointly with the Sociedad General de Farmacia, with which he had collaborated with since 1931.
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