THE CABINET

Artificial vaccine from the Vi antigen

A major advance against deadly typhoid

Technical file

Type of innovation: Vaccine

Scope: Biomedicine

Innovation leader: Grifols i Roig, Josep Antoni

Year: 1936

Period: 1909-1971

Geographical scope: Spain

Economical impact: Low

Level of innovation: Adaptive

Patent: Yes

Interdisciplinary connections: -

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.

Bibliography

  • Meister Lucius & Brüning AG. (1911). Vacuna antitífica Meister Lucius. [Sales brochure]. Frankfurt: Meister Lucius & Brüning AG.
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  • Grifols-Roig, J.A. [ca. 1917]. Vacuna preventiva contra la fiebre tifoidea. [Sales brochure]. Barcelona: Sección de Bacteriología del Instituto Central de Análisis del Dr. Grífols y Roig.
  • Grifols-Roig, J.A. (1919). Tractament de les septicèmies estafilocòciques, d'origen no quirúrgic ni puerperal. Tercer Congrés de Metges de Llengua Catalana, 601-610.
  • Grifols-Roig, J.A. (1933). La vacunoterapia por ingesta en las afecciones colibacilares. [Sales brochure]. Barcelona: Departamento de Biología de la Sociedad General de Farmacia, S.A.
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  • Grifols-Roig, J.A. (1936). Vacuna antitifoidica preventiva. La primera preparada en España de acuerdo con los descubrimientos del Dr. Félix de Londres. [Sales brochure]. Barcelona: Instituto de Análisis Clínicos y de Terapéutica Biológica del Doctor Grífols.
  • Grifols-Roig, J.A. (1936). Una reacción de aglutinación del B. Eberth por la tripaflavina, según el Dr. W. Hirsch, en estrecha relación con el antígeno Vi. Medicina Latina, June-July, 287-294.
  • Felix, A. (1941). A New Type of Typhoid and Paratyphoid Vaccine. British Medical Journal, 1(4184), 391-395.
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  • Grifols-Lucas, V. (2009). Amb un suro i un cordill. Vivències d'un empresari de postguerra. Barcelona: Grupo Grifols, S.A.
  • Avellà, R., & Miquel, B. (Eds.). (2015). Cuando un sueño se cumple. Crónica ilustrada de 75 años de Grifols. Barcelona: Grupo Grifols, S.A.