Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Another chapter in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Share

I get the question all of the time. “How does the story end?” After reading through 300 pages of my new book “The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men” it’s a fair question. Indeed one of the challenges in finishing the book was knowing that the story of developing the first vaccine that might prevent malaria probably wouldn’t and couldn’t have an ending for another 10-20 years. That is partly the nature of science and it partly represents the almost insurmountable obstacles that scientists have faced over hundreds of years in trying to combat malaria. (The book can be found @ http://www.amazon.com/Imaginations-Unreasonable-Men-Inspiration-Purpose/dp/1586487647/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1303909402&sr=1-1)

But that is one of the central points of the book, following the wild rollercoaster ride of Steve Hoffman in particular, from the beginning of his penniless lab in a strip mall to the infusion of more than $30 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which enables Hoffman to build a world class vaccine manufacturing facility. It takes certain qualities of character and specific entrepreneurial strategies to solve problems that affect people so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them.

Now, on the heels of a deeply disappointing clinical trial, Hoffman is back with a newly published paper in the journal Science with vaccine results that he describes as “staggering.” As any entrepreneur would, he took failure not as an end in itself but as another lesson learned along the continuum, and proposed the never before used innovation of introducing a vaccine intravenously. When tried on animals, the results were protection of between 71% and 100%, compared to protection of only 2 out of 44 when tried on humans via injection into the skin. (see summary of Science article @ http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/09/new-hope-for-crazy-malaria-vacci.html )

“It was an ‘aha’ moment “ said Robert Seder at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Its classic entrepreneurship: try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else. It is the twist-and-turn lineage of most great achievements, moreso than a straight line. The initial results left Hoffman disappointed but undeterred. And now he has taken a huge step forward, fully aware that further complications lie ahead, especially how to overcome the practical and logistical challenges of wide-scale distribution intravenously. “Our goal has always been to show that this vaccine is highly effective. Once we have done that. We’ll figure out how to make it practical”, he told Science Now. Just the sentiments that made Hoffman the central figure in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men.