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Edwin Dennis Kilbourne

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 07 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2203
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Discovered way to mass produce influenza vaccines


It was 42 years ago, in 1969, when Edwin D Kilbourne wrote a paper that would lay the groundwork for a new weapon to fight the ever evolving flu virus (Bulletin of the World Health Organization 1969;41:643-5). In the paper, Kilbourne describes a process for producing genetically engineered influenza vaccines by recombining new virus strains with a fast growing, standard laboratory strain. His method became the standard for producing large quantities of flu vaccines each year for mass immunisation.

“It is a classic paper,” said Doris Bucher, who in 1969 joined Kilbourne’s team at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and now is associate professor of microbiology and immunology at New York Medical College. “At the time it wasn’t known that the flu genome is segmented and reassorts segments rather than recombining.” She added that the process “has, at a minimum, permitted double the production of vaccine doses annually than would be possible with the wild-type isolates.”

Production of 200 million doses

Just a few years after publication of the paper, Kilbourne would have the opportunity to use the process on a huge scale, an experience that years later …

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