Salk’s Vaccine

Poliomyelitis devastated the world. Even more so in less developed countries that lacked the capacity for proper sanitation. Essentially, an individual would ingest the virus if he or she consumed contaminated food and drink through the “fecal-oral” route. The infection would eventually lead to permanent paralysis. Children were one of the most susceptible groups of people.

Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin developed two distinct vaccines to cure polio. Salk’s vaccine was the “dead” virus, while Sabin’s vaccine was the attenuated or weakened virus. The difference is the latter was replicated and evolved in different host organisms. Sabin’s vaccine elicited a complete immune response to the virus. Salk’s vaccine was “killed” by high salt concentration, and was not therefore a complete virus, only components of the virus which did elicit an immune response, but not one that was as strong as Sabin’s vaccine.

The issue was, an attenuated virus could, although the chances were slim, revert to its previous infectious state. The public was concerned with the Sabin vaccine reverting and actually causing a polio infection. So, the Salk vaccine became the “go-to” vaccine because a “dead” virus could not revert because the virus was not whole.

There was no doubt that Salk’s vaccine was not only innovative, but useful. So why did Salk decide not to patent his vaccine? After all the Congressional intent of the “Inventions Patentable” statute is to promote newly discovered technologies…including microorganisms. 35 USC § 101. Does his virus/microbe weigh in favor of the following factors?

  • Has the bacterium/microbe obtained a different use?
  • Is it a new bacterium/microbe?
  • Has any change to the bacterial/ microbial species been made?
  • Has the bacterium’s range of utility been enlarged?

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