Sep 28, 2021 - World
Heritage imprint: A milestone from Chilean R&D
Hepatitis B and C found a foe in biotech and medical researchers spearheaded or funded by a Chilean biochemist.
Why it matters: The work and research fostered by Pablo D. Valenzuela led to a groundbreaking vaccine-making technique and the treatment of those with hepatitis B or C, which each affect more than 1.5 million people worldwide every year, according the World Health Organization.
Details: Valenzuela, along with William Rutter and Edward Penhoet, founded the biotech firm Chiron in 1981.
- With Valenzuela as head of research and development, scientists at Chiron in 1989 named the hepatitis C virus, which had puzzled doctors and researchers for years.
- That research was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last year.
In 1986, Chiron accomplished what’s been called a “milestone” and “a medical biotechnology landmark": the creation of the first approved recombinant vaccine.
- The mechanism, patented by Valenzuela for hepatitis B, “clones” a virus so the immune response can be triggered with particles that don’t have the actual disease agent.
- Until then, vaccines had mostly been developed with dead viruses, which made them difficult to produce since they sometimes required plasma from patients that was hard to get.
- In several parts of the world, including the U.S., people can now be safely and effectively vaccinated against hepatitis B from infancy.
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