Signed autograph manuscript, being the original draft version with corrections, of a letter by Pasteur to the Hungarian ambassador in Paris on the methods of inoculation using his anthrax vaccine, but also documenting Pasteur’s determination to maintain the technical monopoly of his Institut over the production and mass distribution of the vaccine.

Paris: 4 October 1881.

I hasten to reply to the letter in which you ask me to authorize M. Thuillier to proceed with the complete preparation of the vaccine before the commission formed to witness experiments with vaccinations. This preparation is fairly simple in theory. I published it in the report of the Académie des Sciences de Paris. Its application takes a lot of time and is very expensive if one is to attain absolute certainty. But to ensure its full value, a lot of time and even expense are required. One has daily to test, so to speak, the state of the virulent anthrax parasite as it progressively changes, and this testing can be achieved only by means of inoculations practised on animals, and finally on a large enough number of sheep. Mr. Thuillier will absolutely not have the time to carry out this study. Furthermore, allow me to point out the fact that out of caution and so as not to compromise the success of a method which is tricky, to say the least, I wish very much that, for at least a year, any vaccine used by sheep or livestock breeders be prepared by me or under my immediate supervision. Moreover, I am presently setting up a sort of factory. I already have no less than two hectolitres of liquid ready to be transformed into vaccine. Next spring I will be able to send tubes filled with vaccine liquid far away, at the very modest cost price, or more or less.

Permit me to add that, after France, Hungary will be the preferred nation. If the practice of vaccination spreads more and more as I hope it will, I will be able to deliver all the vaccine requested only little by little. A factory could be created in Hungary and I would be the first to guarantee its success by giving the most precise instructions. For the moment, it is necessary to persuade farmers and large landowners of the advantages of the method. I hope that the experiment M. Thuillier has performed under your auspices will soon arrive at this result. I will not finish this letter, M. Minister, without thanking Your Excellency for the kindness with which you received M. Thuillier, and I ask you to please accept the homage of my profound respect.

In the 1870s, anthrax was a major epidemic that plagued farmers throughout Europe. According to Pasteur, estimates of the annual loss to French agriculture from anthrax ranged from 20 to 30 million francs. In addition, the disease was also often fatal to humans. In 1876, Robert Koch had shown that anthrax was caused by a rod-shaped bacterium. By that time Pasteur was 54 years old and already internationally famous for his work on fermentation, silkworm diseases and spontaneous generation. After hearing about Koch’s work he began intensively experimenting with B. anthracis, with his goal nothing less than harnessing and controlling its killing power. Pasteur had created a successful vaccine against chicken cholera by exposing the cultures to the air for long periods – this was the world’s first artificially produced vaccine (Jenner’s smallpox vaccine had been based on naturally-occurring cowpox). Along with his assistants Emile Roux, Charles Chamberland and Louis Thuillier, he now set out to do the same thing for anthrax.

In May 1881, Pasteur performed a famous public experiment at Pouilly-le-Fort to demonstrate the effectiveness of his anthrax vaccine. He prepared two groups of 25 sheep, one goat and several cows. The animals of one group were twice injected, with an interval of 15 days, with an anthrax vaccine prepared by Pasteur; a control group was left unvaccinated. Thirty days after the first injection, both groups were injected with a culture of live anthrax bacteria. All the animals in the non-vaccinated group died, while all of the animals in the vaccinated group survived. This sensational success led to huge demand for the vaccine and it was not long before inquiries came from abroad. Yet Pasteur was determined to keep sole control over his process and insisted that all vaccine cultures be prepared in his laboratory.

“In 1881, anthrax vaccine trials were performed on the livestock of two major landowners in Hungary. In this case, Pasteur sent his assistant Thuillier to vaccinate the animals. Baron Kemeny, the Austro-Hungarian minister for agriculture, trade, and industry asked Pasteur to authorize his assistant to ‘perform the full preparation of the vaccine in front of the commission set up to witness the experiments’, but Pasteur refused. The arguments Pasteur offered to support his refusal justified his laboratory’s technical monopoly over the preparation of the vaccine, at least during the initial phase of development.

“First, Pasteur emphasized the importance of the laboratory know-how necessary for the preparation of the vaccine, as well as the time and cost involved in developing it: This preparation is fairly simple in theory. I published it in the report of the Académie des Sciences de Paris. Its application takes a lot of time and is very expensive if one is to attain absolute certainty. But to ensure its full value, a lot of time and even expense are required. One has daily to test, so to speak, the state of the virulent anthrax parasite as it progressively changes, and this testing can be achieved only by means of inoculations practised on animals, and finally on a large enough number of sheep.

“Apart from knowledge concerning the principle of attenuation, Pasteur revealed the importance of the system for measuring and verifying virulence, which made it possible to establish a scale of virulence for the different cultures and to determine the appropriate virulence ratio between the first and the second vaccines needed to produce immunity… The time required for the attenuation of microbes and the setting up of such measurement procedures would, according to Pasteur, exceed his assistant’s mission: Mr. Thuillier will absolutely not have the time to carry out this study. Since the vaccine preparation method was still not perfectly stable, it had to remain under the inventors’ control so that they could perfect the procedure.

“Pasteur also justified his refusal to transfer the production of the vaccine out of a concern for the quality and reputation of the anthrax vaccine: Furthermore, allow me to point out the fact that out of caution and so as not to compromise the success of a method which is tricky, to say the least, I wish very much that, for at least a year, any vaccine used by sheep or livestock breeders be prepared by me or under my immediate supervision. Bad preparations could ruin the career of the anthrax vaccine since the principle of vaccination was still a highly controversial issue. Before considering diversifying the sites of vaccine production, it was first necessary to consolidate and extend the network that was promoting the use of the vaccine: For the moment, it is necessary to persuade farmers and large landowners of the advantages of the method.

“Pasteur had definite ideas for the industrial and commercial organization of vaccine production. Thus, he described the launching of his small industrial laboratory in these terms: Moreover, I am presently setting up a sort of factory. I already have no less than two hectolitres of liquid ready to be transformed into vaccine. Next spring I will be able to send tubes filled with vaccine liquid far away, at the very modest cost price, or more or less. His Paris laboratory was to mass-produce the vaccines that were to be sent out to other countries. He proposed a trade agreement: after France, Hungary will be the preferred nation. He then considered setting up a production laboratory in Hungary to cater for the expanding market. If the practice of vaccination spreads more and more as I hope it will, I will be able to deliver all the vaccine requested only little by little. A factory could be created in Hungary and I would be the first to guarantee its success by giving the most precise instructions. This last sentence confirms both the importance of the know-how that would be transferred in such a case, and Pasteur’s refusal at that moment in time to share this know-how with the Hungarians.

“This monopoly was supposed to be temporary, and Pasteur justified it with reference to the problems and risks involved in diffusing an emergent invention… He clearly intended limiting and controlling the extent of the network itself, despite pressing demands made on him to expand it. He was wary of counterfeiters and on several occasions reacted with suspicion when asked to give precise descriptions of his production methods, not only for the anthrax vaccine but for other preparations as well. Although his goal was not financial profit—he specified that the price of the vaccine would be close to the cost price—he was determined to maintain total control over the use and diffusion of his invention. Furthermore, the diffusion of this vaccine benefited from France’s influence in Central and Eastern Europe. We know that Pasteur deliberately put several of his inventions at the service of France’s economy and its expansionist agenda. However, if he agreed to divulge the production method of his vaccine to the Hungarians, he would lose his control over the diffusion of his invention in the region and would thus hand the exploitation of that particular market over to the Hungarian producer” (Cassier, pp. 730-1).

DSB X: 392-8; Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur (1998) (especially chapters 11 & 14). Maurice Cassier, ‘Appropriation and commercialization of the Pasteur anthrax vaccine,’ Stud. Hist. Phil. Biol. & Biomed. Sci. 36 (2005) 722–42.

Autograph letter signed (“L. Pasteur”), in French, Paris, 4 October 1881, to Baron de Kemeny, the Hungarian ambassador in Paris, who had asked Pasteur to give his country the anthrax vaccine. Two pages (273 x 210 mm). Cassier quotes a copy of the present letter in the archives of the Institut Pasteur. That is presumably the copy sent to Baron de Kemeny, the offered letter, which has several corrections and deletions, being the draft version retained by Pasteur for his own records.

Item #3341

Price: $18,500.00

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