Public Health Partner

Sanofi Pasteur Limited: Canada's Primary Public Health Partner

Sanofi Pasteur's Connaught Campus continues a proud legacy as the cornerstone of Canada's unique public health system. Based on close partnerships with the provincial and federal governments, it is a legacy that has protected Canadian's from disease through the development and delivery of essential biological products. Since its founding in 1913 in a backyard stable, the company -- known through most of its history as Connaught Laboratories -- has also been a key partner in the global control of many diseases, particularly diabetes, diphtheria, pertussis, polio and smallpox.

The beginnings of this partnership stretch directly to Louis Pasteur and his establishment of the Pasteur Institute in 1888. Pasteur's success with rabies vaccine, and then the discovery of diphtheria antitoxin in the 1890s, inspired the foundation of many similar organizations around the world dedicated to producing public health products. In 1894, the Ontario Board of Health began importing a commercial supply of diphtheria antitoxin from the U.S., and also established the Ontario Vaccine Farm to provide smallpox vaccine. For the next decade, concerns grew in Canada about the price and quality of imported diphtheria antitoxin. There was also pressure from the Canadian Public Health Association, and others, on the federal government to assume responsibility for producing the antitoxin, or at least regulate its quality. In 1910, a rabies outbreak in Ontario also brought calls for the establishment of a Pasteur Institute affiliated with the University of Toronto, but little developed.

Meanwhile, at the Pasteur Institute in Brussels, University of Toronto medical graduate, Dr. John G. FitzGerald, was spending his honeymoon studying how to prepare rabies vaccine and diphtheria antitoxin. After further studies in England, Germany, New York and California, FitzGerald began preparing rabies vaccine for the Ontario Provincial Laboratory. Frustrated by the continuing expense of imported diphtheria antitoxin, FitzGerald built the Barton Avenue Stable in 1913 with his own money to make the antitoxin and sold his first batches, at cost, to the Ontario Board of Health for free pubic distribution. Soon after the University of Toronto assumed responsibility for FitzGerald's enterprise in May 1914, other provinces expressed interest in the Antitoxin Laboratories' life-saving products, as did the federal government, especially when a serious shortage of tetanus antitoxin during World War I threatened Canadian soldiers.

By the end of the War, with Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories expanded to include a large farm and new buildings, FitzGerald secured its self-supporting structure within the University and its national position as sole supplier of affordable public health products. He established a "Connaught Laboratories Research Fund" to support product development and improvement, and then set up a "Honorary Advisory Committee of the Connaught Laboratories," to which provincial and federal health authorities would meet annually to discuss scientific problems in which Connaught could be of service. By 1919, this Committee became the "Dominion Council of Health," the official advisory body to the newly established Federal Department of Health, on which FitzGerald, and his successors as Connaught Director, would have a permanent seat.

During the early 1920s, Connaught's public health partnerships grew on an international level. The discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 1921 and Connaught's development of large-scale production methods, in partnership with Eli Lilly, connected the Laboratories with other insulin producers around the world. The Toronto insulin story also attracted the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which sponsored the establishment of the new School of Hygiene building at the University in 1927, which also served as the home of insulin production until 1970.

During the late 1920s, scientific partnerships with the Pasteur Institute enabled Connaught to clearly establish the immunizing value of diphtheria toxoid, while during the 1930s, cooperation with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, along with several local health departments, expedited the development of fresh strain pertussis vaccine. Through World War II, Connaught intensified its partnership with the federal government, particularly the military, when it developed large-scale methods to produce penicillin for the troops involved with "D-Day" in June 1944.

The growing problem of polio strengthened Connaught's provincial and federal partnerships during the 1940s and 1950s, and catalyzed others, especially with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in the U.S. (also known as the March of Dimes). Connaught's close relationship with the NFIP was essential to the development of the Salk vaccine itself. Moreover, the Laboratories' strong links to Canadian governments proved critical when tragedy struck during the vaccine's U.S. introduction in April 1955. With the U.S. program cancelled, Canada continued using the vaccine based on the Minister of National Health and Welfare, Paul Martin Sr.'s confidence in Connaught's long experience with it, thus helping to quickly restore global confidence in Salk's vaccine.

Based on Connaught's polio vaccine successes, among other experience, the Laboratories' global partnerships expanded further in support of the eradication of smallpox during the 1960s and 1970s. Connaught's primary role in this effort grew out of close connections with U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, Connaught, in particular, supplying much-needed technical advice to local Latin American vaccine producers. The goal was to sharply raise the standards of smallpox vaccine in the region and ensure a sufficient supply. Connaught played a key role in both efforts, soon providing freeze-dried smallpox vaccine to many countries through donations from the Canadian government. By the mid-1970s, with success assured against smallpox, Connaught helped facilitate the development of the WHO's Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI), which by 1988 led to the start of the WHO's polio eradication initiative. Sanofi Pasteur's Connaught Campus has been a key partner in this effort, as it will, no doubt, in many other global, national and local public health missions in the future.