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The development of vaccines against cancer


What's happening with the hepatitis vaccination program?
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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Well, essentially what's happened is the vaccination program has, is now widespread, and some 76, 77% of all the countries in the WHO have universal vaccination programs of one kind or another, and others are joining. The places that don't have them, unfortunately, are places that need them. Some places, like in Africa where the organization of vaccination programs is very hard to accomplish. Some places are doing okay, like, you know, South Africa, and several of them are… there's a few places that are doing pretty well with vaccinations. I've tried, you know, I talk about it quite a lot and I’ve made visits, and hoping to encourage that. The... and then strangely, some of the northern countries don't have it, you know, like England and Scandinavia, parts in Scandinavia, because they, the risk is not deemed to be so high. I think, actually, they're contemplating adding it in the United Kingdom now. The… okay, so the — and there's been a dramatic drop in the prevalence of carriers of hepatitis B. The… in places like China, where it's been used by the... not universally in China yet, but widely, the prevalences has dropped from like 15% down to one percent or two percent, within 10 years. Now, that's in the impacted population. So that means, the ones that got the vaccine — children. But the interesting thing, in some of the studies, the prevalence is also going down in the non-vaccinated population. Not as much as in the vaccinated population. And with, that's a… that's rather strange, because the notion was, if you get infected chronically, then you'll remain infected. But the implication of this is, is that revaccination, I'm sorry, re-infection is needed in order to stay in the carrier state. Now, that's based on this… this kind of observation. You know, that you get a decrease in the vaccinated and non-vaccinated - there may be other explanations - but the question is, how did the… how did the people who are carriers, know about it? I mean, how does the virus know that? Are they re-infected, and if so, how? Because the major source of infection would be... would have been before the vaccination... would be children. Well, children wouldn't ordinarily infect adults, except there's some mechanism we don't understand.

[Q] Bed bugs?


[Q] Bed bugs?

Insect transmission? I think, it hasn't really been examined sufficiently, particularly the molecular biology. So that's a very interesting area. So, okay, so that's where they've been. Then there've been at least two studies, maybe three, really, but two that are… that are seen in publications of, where they have looked at what happened to primary cancer of the liver. And the best study was done in Taiwan, where they started vaccination programs in 1980s, and I went there in 1978, in the year after I went to China. And again, I spoke to probably hundreds of scientists, gave lectures and talked personally to them, told them about the vaccine. But they were... the people in Taiwan... they were already, they were well up on what was going on. And it didn't take an awful lot of encouragement to, they didn't need it, you know, they already had it. Although, I think my going there was helpful, of course it’s a focus to the people who heard it, you know, I gave lectures with large… pretty large attendance. There was another, sort of funny incident. When I first went there, they would... they had set up testing and blood banks right away. And I went to one of the… the, they're a national… it’s sort of a… the equivalent of Red Cross, or is Red Cross, actually, and the… and I went to the transfusion centre and they were testing blood, so I said, well, what do you do with the blood that you find to be positive? He said, well, we put it in the fridge until we discard it. So I said, may I make a suggestion of, save that blood, buy some deep-freeze units and save that blood, and when people start making vaccine from the carrier blood, they'll have this stuff, you know, to use. Well, I… I didn't go to Taiwan for, I don’t know, five, six, seven years, and I went for a somewhat different purpose, and — I was doing some plant collecting, among other things — and I… but I was at a meeting there, and a young woman, she told me she was from the Central Blood Bank, and would I come back for a visit again, after having been there some years prior. So, you know, I said I'd be happy to and we drove through the summer heat, and, boy, it gets hot, you know, in Taiwan, and she said, ‘Well, actually, we're in a different location now, and we have another much larger building than we did before’. And she said, 'It's all due to you’. I said, ‘What do you mean? What happened?’ She said, ‘Well, we took your advice. We bought the things, and we sold the blood for an enormous amount of money. And we built transfusion centers in several places in Taiwan!’

[Q] Wow! What an impact. That's great.

But, you know, I didn't know about that, I didn't realize it. And I went to the building, they had a new building, you know, they had, my picture was on the wall.

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: Taiwan

Duration: 6 minutes

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009