Open Letter - May 1, 2014

 

Dear fellow Canadians,

 

   It is with great pride that I mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Sanofi Pasteur in Canada – a century of improving health around the world through the manufacture of life-saving vaccines. As a veteran of the industry for 30 years, the significance of this milestone is foremost in my mind. It’s no doubt a time of celebration for Sanofi Pasteur’s nearly 13,000 employees worldwide as we reflect on our shared achievements, which include many hard-fought victories against infectious disease. However, recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases locally and abroad suggest there is much work yet to be done, and bring to light the devastating effects of complacency in our modern age. Today, I reach out to you with a message of optimism and hope, tempered by an urgent need for action.

   One hundred years ago, Dr. John G. FitzGerald, a Canadian physician, sought to establish a public health model that placed infectious disease prevention within reach of everyone – no matter where they lived or their financial status. Unrelenting in his pursuit, FitzGerald eventually gained support from the University of Toronto, enabling the foundation of what would become our country’s first and largest vaccine company.

   Beginning with the provision of diphtheria antitoxin at a fraction of the cost of the imported product at the time, FitzGerald’s unprecedented efforts revolutionized the face of public health in Canada. In the decades that followed, the company would go on to achieve a number of innovations that still resonate in the medical world today: from working with Banting and Best to produce the first supply of insulin for clinical trials (1922), to playing key roles in the introduction of the Salk polio vaccine (1955) and in the eradication of smallpox (1979), to developing the first five-component pertussis vaccine (1996).

   I reflect on these and other triumphs with a sense of honour, on behalf of the men and women who have devoted their life’s work to realizing FitzGerald’s vision over the last ten decades. As a company, we owe much of our success to collaborations with major universities, the federal and provincial governments, research institutes and the many public health workers who continue to endorse the immeasurable and unyielding value of immunization. According to the World Health Organization, three million lives are saved by vaccines each year, and vaccination remains the most cost-effective health intervention available.1 These figures notwithstanding, and despite concentrated efforts by organizations around the world towards eradication and prevention, the reality of our situation today is less than favourable.

   The growth of our population and new ways of living over the past century have given rise to new challenges. We are seeing the return of diseases once thought to be all but wiped out, threatening to disrupt years of careful progress towards total elimination. International air travel – once a luxury for a fortunate few – is now commonplace, which means disease can spread at an unprecedented rate. This threat is drastically increased when large populations eschew the preventive option of vaccination, and we are seeing increasing signs of this all around us. In the past few weeks alone, the resurfacing of measles, once thought to have been eradicated from Canada through immunization programs, prompted a series of advisories across Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and is similarly spreading across international communities. Elsewhere in the world, increased cases of meningitis in the U.S. have been cause for alarm, as is the abrupt re-emergence of polio in countries like Equatorial Guinea – which, until last month, had not seen a case of the disease in nearly 15 years.

   While a majority of Canadians recognize the value of vaccines, some – whether due to indifference or misconceptions – choose to opt out. Though all are entitled to a personal choice when it comes to immunization, it is a choice that extends beyond our own homes, our own families, our own communities. Unfortunately, it only takes a few unprotected individuals to put the most vulnerable among us at risk.

   At Sanofi Pasteur, we are doing our best to continue the fight. We are guided by the hope of protecting our future generations, especially in developing populations where access to vaccines and adequate health care is scarce. Through partnerships with international organizations such as UNICEF, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the GAVI Alliance, Sanofi Pasteur has helped immunize millions of children around the world, with 500 million doses of vaccine supplied each year. On the homefront, we look forward to 13 products currently in development or in clinical trials, such as new vaccines against dengue fever, C. difficile, pneumococcal disease, and HIV.

   Today, on the anniversary of our founding, I am inspired by how far we have come as an organization – one that began with a single man’s vision – now championed by thousands strong.

   Moreover, advancements across the field of immunization, strong advocacy work by public health organizations, and the dedication of those throughout the industry hold vast potential for the future of disease prevention. I am heartened by the promise of what the next century will bring.

Sincerely,

J. MARK LIEVONEN
President, Sanofi Pasteur Limited

 

For more information about immunization, including statistics on its preventive value and safety, please visit the following resources:

www.gavialliance.org        www.phac.gc.ca        www.who.int

 

1. WHO, UNICEF, World Bank. State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunization, 3rd ed. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009

 

 

 

 

  

TOP LEFT:

CONNAUGHT CAMPUS – 1917

The Connaught Campus and University Farm in north Toronto officially opened in 1917 – three years after the company’s founding under the University of Toronto’s Department of Hygiene. Today, it remains the site of Sanofi Pasteur’s Canadian operations.

 

ABOVE:

DR. JOHN G. FITZGERALD – 1913

After a formative stay at the Pasteur Institute in Brussels, FitzGerald returned to Toronto and began to pursue his vision to make vaccines and antitoxins widely available to all Canadians as a public service.

 

BARTON AVENUE STABLE – 1913

FitzGerald began producing diphtheria antitoxin in the Toronto backyard of his assistant, William Fenton (pictured). The original stable, independently built and financed by FitzGerald, now sits on Sanofi Pasteur’s Toronto campus and serves as a small museum, part of the site’s Heritage Square.

 

SCIENTIST LORI PEPLINSKIE – TODAY

Peplinskie, one of over 1,200 research, manufacturing and support staff on site today, performs experiments for vaccine research in the Analytical R&D laboratory.

 

WORLDWIDE, OUR VACCINES

PROTECT AGAINST:

yellow fever

mumps

polio

measles

rubella

influenza

hepatitis A

hepatitis B

rabies

Japanese encephalitis

pertussis

diphtheria

Haemophilus influenzae type b infections
meningococcal infections

pneumococcal infection

tetanus

tuberculosis

typhoid fever
cholera

smallpox
(eradicated disease)