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Canada’s Key Role in Creating a Once Awaited Vaccine

Connaught, however, had come up with a synthetic, liquid growth mixture, known as Medium 199, for cancer cell research that produced more virus, more quickly and without contamination. It was provided to Dr. Salk for his polio efforts.

Credit…Sanofi Pasteur Canada Archives

It was Dr. Farrell, one of a very small number of women then working as research chemists in Canada, who figured out how to safely produce vast quantities of virus in Medium 199. Adapting earlier work, she developed what came to be known as the Toronto Method. Racks of specially designed machines gently rocked bottles of Method 199 and the virus.

Her next task was to get enough machines built and to hire enough qualified staff to make not only enough virus for the tests in the United States, Canada and Finland, but also to create enough vaccine to inoculate all of Canada’s children. In a bid to accelerate vaccination, the Canadian government gambled and placed an order with Connaught before knowing if the Salk vaccine would prove safe and effective in tests.

It did, with the result made public on April 12, 1955, the day before Dr. Farrell’s birthday. “I could not help feeling that I had received a pretty fine present,” she said in a speech that fall.

Variations of the Toronto Method were used until the 1970s to make polio vaccines, Dr. Rutty told me. Apparently, at Dr. Farrell’s request, Connaught decided not to patent the process.

Dr. Rutty, who is the expert when it comes to Canada’s role in polio research and who serves as the historian for Connaught’s successor company, Sanofi Pasteur Canada, said that frustratingly little is known about Dr. Farrell’s personal life. She never married, as was the case with many other women in Canadian medical research, nor had children.

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