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THE HEPATITIS B VACCINE U.S. Patent No. 4,710,463; 4,769,238; 6,096,879 Issued:Three patents: one in December 1987 to (now Sir) Kenneth Murray of the University of Edinburgh, a founding member of Biogen Inc.; one in September 1988 to William Rutter and others; one in August 2000 to Pierre Tiollais and others Assigned tBiogen (Murray patent); the Regents of the University of California (Rutter patent); Institute Pasteur (Tiollais patent) Prosecuted by:Fish & Neave Hepatitis B is a killer. The infection leads to more than 1 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization, and is also the leading cause of liver cancer. In the United States, the hepatitis death rate has fallen to 5,000 deaths a year, largely because of an effective vaccine that has become a childhood inoculation in the past decade and a half. The high-tech vaccine is the first produced using genetic engineering. Kenneth Murray’s patent, one of several that have been crucial to conquering the disease, covers the so-called “intermediates” that are useful in the production of hepatitis B virus antigens. Intermediates are substances that trigger the production of disease-fighting proteins known as antibodies. By developing these antibodies prior to exposure, the body creates a defensive barrier, preventing hepatitis B infections. Prior to Murray’s work the antigens were extremely hard to develop in the lab. By using genetic engineering techniques, Murray was able to create antigens in great quantities — paving the way for readily available vaccines, and for tools to detect hepatitis B infection. Today, every one of these vaccines implicates the patent — and puts licensing fees in Biogen’s coffers (licensing rates are confidential). The global market for the hepatitis B vaccine now exceeds $1 billion a year, and is expected to grow as more countries adopt World Health Organization recommendations for the vaccination of newborns, teen-agers, health care workers, and other at-risk populations. Alan Cohen is a free-lance writer based in New York City. His e-mail is [email protected].

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