Developed in the 1960s at Wistar, the rubella vaccine has eradicated the disease in the U.S., according to a statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made in March 2005.
In the Russian Federation and the Newly Independent States (N.I.S.), however, rubella remains a serious problem. The rubella vaccine has not been widely accessible in these countries.
"We are pleased to make available the seed stock of our rubella vaccine to the Russian Federation and the N.I.S.," says Russel E. Kaufman, M.D., president and CEO of The Wistar Institute. "Eradicating rubella is a significant global public health priority, and The Wistar Institute is eager to ensure that the benefits of this vaccine are available to people worldwide."
Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) is an important cause of severe birth defects. When a woman is infected with the rubella vaccine early in pregnancy, she has a 90 percent chance of passing the virus on to her fetus. The virus can kill the fetus or cause CRS. Although CRS can be a relatively mild disease in children, in fetuses it causes deafness, blindness, mental retardation, and other birth defects.
Scientists at The Wistar Institute began work on the vaccine after a pandemic of rubella swept across Europe and the U.S. in 1963 and 1964, leaving in its wake about 12,000 infants born deaf or deaf and blind. Their rubella vaccine was introduced for use by physicians in 1969, signaling the beginning of the end for the virus in the U.S.
The Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation encouraged the agreement between Wistar and Microgen and will continue to offer Microgen its assistance as the project moves forward. Established in 1991 by Maestro Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, to improve the state of children's health in Russia and the N.I.S., the foundation conducts sustainable public health programs for children that emphasize prevention.
"Rubella takes a terrible toll in my native land and other countries," says Maestro Rostropovich. "I applaud Wistar for providing the vaccine seed stock to Microgen on favorable terms. My foundation is determined to ensure that this vaccine becomes widely available in Russia and the N.I.S. to end this cause of devastating birth defects."
The Wistar Institute is an independent nonprofit biomedical research institution dedicated to discovering the causes and cures for major diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases. Founded in 1892 as the first institution of its kind in the nation, The Wistar Institute today is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center focused on basic and translational research. Discoveries at Wistar have led to the development of vaccines for such diseases as rabies and rubella, the identification of genes associated with breast, lung, and prostate cancer, and the development of monoclonal antibodies and other significant research technologies and tools. Additional information about The Wistar Institute is available on the web at www.wistar.org.