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Vol. LX, No. 8
April 18, 2008

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New Horizons For Vaccines Is Subject of LaMontagne Lecture

  Dr. Rino Rappuoli  
  Dr. Rino Rappuoli  

Dr. Rino Rappuoli would like people to think of vaccines in a new way. We all know vaccines as safe and effective ways to prevent childhood illnesses, he notes. Indeed, 21st-century parents and pediatricians in developed countries are unlikely to ever see cases of polio, measles, mumps, tetanus or diphtheria, thanks to vaccines. Now, says Rappuoli, we are entering an age when vaccines should be viewed as a kind of lifelong health insurance, as cost-effective interventions to guard against conditions such as cervical cancer and hypertension that typically strike in later years.

Rappuoli will present this argument at the 2008 John Ring LaMontagne Memorial Lecture in Lipsett Amphitheater, Bldg. 10 on Tuesday, May 6 at 2 p.m. Rappuoli is based in Siena, Italy, and is global head, vaccines research, for Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, a position he has held since 2006.

Rappuoli’s innovative research centers on disease- causing bacteria, including the microbes that cause pertussis, cholera and meningococcal meningitis. In the mid-1980s, while at the Sclavo Research Center in Siena, he led research that resulted in the first recombinant bacterial vaccine against whooping cough (which is caused by Bordetella pertussis). The mutant form of pertussis toxin used in the vaccine was the first protein constructed by rational drug design to be approved for use in people. Currently, Rappuoli is working on a vaccine against group B meningococcus. Meningococcal meningitis, he notes, is one of few remaining infectious diseases that can sicken and kill otherwise healthy children and young people in a matter of hours. It, too, is in the crosshairs for elimination through vaccination.

When deciding the worth or price of vaccines, Rappuoli urges the scientific community and others to look beyond their immediate cost-effectiveness in reducing or eliminating health care costs directly associated with treating disease. Instead, a broader conception of their benefit should be employed. Imagine, he says, if parents were offered the chance to buy insurance that would—with 90 percent certainty—assure their newborn of 70 years of life free not only from childhood illnesses, but also from certain forms of cancer or other diseases. Parents, Rappuoli says, would likely see this as a valuable proposition. A shift in mindset by manufacturers, policy makers and vaccine users focusing on long-term benefits has begun, he says, and should lead to a true valuation of these extraordinary products.

The John Ring LaMontagne Memorial Lecture honors contributions made to NIAID by LaMontagne over the course of a 30-year career with the institute. He was the institute’s first influenza program officer as well as director of NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. He served as NIAID’s deputy director from 1998 until his untimely death in 2004. His leadership and accomplishments in fighting emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases earned him international recognition, numerous accolades and widespread admiration. NIHRecord Icon

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