Polio and the Power of Partnership

The other day, I stumbled across an older post from my colleague David Marbaugh, discussing Lilly’s role in manufacturing Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. This month marks 60 years since this very same vaccine was declared “safe, effective, and potent."

For those of us born after its development, it’s difficult to imagine life under the threat of polio. However, for children at the time, the disease loomed heavy over day-to-day childhood activities, like bike rides, recesses, and summer breaks.

Yet, just over a decade after Dr. Salk started his research, the rate of polio had dropped by a staggering 96% in the United States. The story of Dr. Salk’s efforts to eradicate polio paints a harrowing picture of the hard work discovery requires, but it also highlights the importance of collaboration.

Dr. Salk began his work in 1948 as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and his research was funded in part by the non-profit March of Dimes. Five years later, pharmaceutical companies (including Lilly), began early clinical trials, and shortly thereafter we were asked to begin manufacturing and stockpiling the vaccine before it was approved. We did so without hesitation, and without guarantee of compensation. The FDA didn’t approve the treatment until April 1955, and Lilly soon became a major manufacturer of the vaccine.

Ultimately, by bringing together non-profit funding, academic research, and private sector manufacturing power, we made huge strides in improving public health. 

This slice of history illuminates the power of partnership in efforts to meet medical needs. As we look forward to building a healthiertomorrow, we should reflect on those moments in our past that show the true value of collaboration.