Scientist Emil von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in medicine in 1901 for his work in diphtheria antitoxin serum – groundbreaking science that underpins some of plasma research happening today to fight COVID-19.
Derek Linton, a history professor who wrote a 2005 biography about von Behring, said the global pandemic – and the urgent search for treatments – brought von Behring’s innovations to mind, as well as the contributions of fellow scientist Japanese researcher Shibasaburo Kitasato. In 1890s Berlin, the two “developed principles and procedures that resulted in viable and commercially available tetanus and diphtheria antitoxins.”
The science has evolved, of course, but these principles and procedures are precisely the same as those used for the development of antiviral convalescent sera today, said Linton, who teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.
CSL Behring is a founding member of the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, a collaboration among industry leaders that is pooling resources to develop a non-branded hyperimmune globulin that contains a consistently high level of antibodies to treat the novel coronavirus. The potential product is derived from plasma donations from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
We remember von Behring during Nobel Week and congratulate this year’s Nobel Prize winners. Learn more about them at the Nobel Prize site.