Dr. Robert D. Defries (right) receiving the Albert Lasker Award – the highest award from the American Public Health Association – from U.S. President, Harry Truman, Nov.1955.
Image source: Sanofi Pasteur Canada

Dr. Robert D. Defries (1889-1975)

Born in Toronto in 1889, Robert Davies Defries played a central role in the development of Connaught Laboratories, and in the shaping of public health in Canada during the first half of the 20th century.

Defries graduated in medicine from the University of Toronto in 1913 and then earned a diploma in Public Health one year later. During this period, Defries met Dr. John FitzGerald, who convinced him to apply his passion for medical missionary work to the more pragmatic mission of public health advancement.

Defries was closely involved with smallpox and diphtheria vaccine research and development during the 1920s and 30s and became Connaught’s director in the midst of WWII. He then directed Connaught’s development and mass field trial of the Salk polio vaccine in the early 1950s. Defries served as Director of the School of Hygiene until retiring in 1955, and was also editor of the Canadian Journal of Public Health from 1928 to 1964.


Dr. Leone N. Farrell (1904-1986)

Dr. Leone .N. Farrell
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Dr. Leone Farrell was among a small group of women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences. Born in Monkland, Ontario, her family moved to Toronto where she remained until completing a M.A. in 1929 at the University of Toronto, which focused on the chemistry of fermentation. She then undertook further studies at the National Research Council and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the U.K. She returned to Toronto and completed a Ph.D. in 1933 and joined Connaught in 1934.

Dr. Farrell focused on the development of toxoid vaccines against staphylococcus and dysentery. This work led to her developing a new method of “rocking” cell cultures for the bulk production of toxin in a liquid medium. She then adapted this “rocking” method for the production of pertussis vaccine in the early 1940s; a decade later this “Toronto Method” was further adapted to the production of poliovirus.

During the 1940s, Dr. Farrell was involved with the production of several products, such as cholera vaccine, before concentrating her skills on improving the production of penicillin in the early 1950s. Then came her pioneering contributions to the Salk vaccine story. She continued researching further improvements in polio vaccine production until her retirement in 1969.




Dr. Paul Fenje (1915-2010)

Dr, Paul Fenje
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The eradication of smallpox in 1979 was closely tied to the key contributions made by Connaught Laboratories, especially the work of Dr. Paul Fenje.

Fenje was born in Yugoslavia and after studies in public health and virology and work at the Pasteur Institute in Novi Sad, he escaped the Communist rule there and came to Canada in 1958. Working at Connaught, he focused on rabies, typhus and smallpox vaccine development and production.

Rabies vaccines were Fenje’s main focus during the early 1960s, especially developing a pre-exposure human vaccine. Smallpox vaccine production improvement, especially freeze-dried vaccine, grew in importance during the same decade, as plans for a global smallpox eradication initiative developed. Indeed, Fenje and Dr. Robert J. Wilson worked closely with the World Health Organization on such plans, the success of which depended upon the production of a high-quality, standardized vaccine, which was based on Fenje's production methods.

The eradication program began in 1966-67 with Connaught serving as the WHO's International Smallpox Reference Laboratory for the western hemisphere. Fenje and Wilson served as consultants to assist smallpox vaccine producers in Latin America improve vaccine quality, and Fenje oversaw production of some 35 million doses for the eradication program.


Dr. John G. FitzGerald (1882-1940)

Dr. John G. FitzGerald.
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Born on December 8, 1882, in Drayton, Ontario, the eldest son of a pharmacist, John Gerald FitzGerald sought early to rise above his obscure origins and become a doctor. In 1903 he became the youngest to graduate from the University of Toronto Medical School. Yielding to a characteristic restlessness, enthusiasm and ambition, FitzGerald initially focused on mental diseases and their prevention, but he soon grew frustrated with the limited results that he could achieve in preventive psychiatry. He then shifted his considerable energy towards bacteriology during studies at Harvard and U. of T., and then further studies at the Pasteur Institute in Brussels in 1910. Additional studies followed in California, Germany, London and New York City. During this period, FitzGerald garnered unique experience in bacteriology and observed novel approaches to public health education, research and the low-cost production of biological products as a public service that he would apply when he returned to Toronto in 1913. He was asked to prepare Canada’s first supply of Pasteur Rabies Treatment at the Ontario Provincial Laboratory and while working with William Fenton developed a plan to prepare diphtheria antitoxin.

Borrowing funds from his wife’s dowry, in late 1913 FitzGerald bought several horses and prepared diphtheria antitoxin in a small stable and lab he built in Fenton’s backyard on Barton Avenue. Their initial success garnered the support of the University of Toronto, which established the Antitoxin Laboratory in Department of Hygiene on May 1, 1914. The Ontario Board of Health was the first to buy the antitoxin and then various vaccines, including smallpox vaccine, at cost for free distribution; the other provinces soon followed suit. A shortage of tetanus antitoxin during World War I prompted a philanthropic gift by distillery magnate Albert E. Gooderham that expanded the enterprise into the Connaught Laboratories and University Farm in 1917, named after the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada between 1911 and 1916. FitzGerald would then play a key role after the discovery of insulin at U of T. in facilitating Connaught’s development of large-scale production methods, earning the fledgling labs an international reputation.

In 1927, FitzGerald oversaw the creation of the School of Hygiene at U. of T., the academic arm of the Connaught Labs, and the first institution in Canada dedicated to public health and preventive medicine. FitzGerald would then serve as Director of Connaught and the School, which together laid the foundation for provincial and federal health programs across Canada.

Within a single generation, Dr. FitzGerald had conceived and helped build the modern institutional infrastructure of Canada’s public health system, his extraordinary foresight, drive and dedication effectively leading to the control or eradication of many infectious diseases in Canada and abroad. Yet, paradoxically, his achievements exacted a toll on his own health; beneath the creative genius of “Canada’s Public Health Visionary” lay a manic-depressive condition that emerged at the very height of his success. After decades of selfless public service, John Gerald FitzGerald took his own life on June 20, 1940.


Dr. Donald T. Fraser.
Image source Sanofi Pasteur Canada

Dr. Donald T. Fraser (1888-1954)

Donald Thomas Fraser was born into a University of Toronto family on September 27, 1888, and continued the tradition with a medical degree in 1915. During service in World War I, Donald Fraser met Dr. John FitzGerald, who invited him to join the Antitoxin Laboratory, which he did in December 1918 as a bacteriologist. Fraser quickly became the third pillar in the building and leadership of Connaught and the School along with FitzGerald and Dr. Robert D. Defries, personifying the School’s “fusion of humanistic and scientific learning.”

With a distinctive fearlessness and sense of conviction, Fraser often lent the services of himself and his family as human guinea pigs, including being among the first recipients of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids. This dedication of both mind and body gave Fraser the confidence to speak publicly about the merits of immunization, opening many doors for the broader use of vaccines.


Dr. Neil E. McKinnon.
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Dr. Neil E. McKinnon (1894-1985)

Dr. Neil E. McKinnon played a major role in vaccine development and the advancement of epidemiology during a career at Connaught began in 1925 and spanned 34 years. A strong-willed man, often described as an "iconoclast," McKinnon’s first work at Connaught was focused on vaccinia virus research in support of smallpox vaccine production. He then concentrated on evaluating the effectiveness of diphtheria toxoid, especially by analyzing the immunization records of some 36,000 Toronto children involved in the comprehensive clinical trial of the toxoid during the late 1920s. It was this work which clearly established the value of diphtheria toxoid as an immunizing agent.




Dr. Peter J. Moloney (1891-1989)

Dr. Peter J. Moloney.
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Dr. Peter Joseph Moloney played an essential role in advancing the study of antitoxins and vaccines at Connaught Labs and the School of Hygiene. He was born in Penetanguishene, Ontario, on June 29, 1891, and at 16 began a lifelong association with St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. He turned to the study of chemistry during graduate school, earning a MA in 1915 and then focused on the study of immunochemistry, a specialty that attracted to attention of Dr. John FitzGerald, who brought him to Connaught in September 1919 to work on the preparation of diphtheria antitoxin. Moloney was also recruited to assist with the purification of insulin.

In 1924, Moloney received an urgent request from Dr. FitzGerald, who, while visiting the Pasteur Institute in France, had learned of a way to immunize against diphtheria using a "toxoid" vaccine. However, further work was needed to test it. Moloney expedited the production of the toxoid and also developed the "Moloney Reaction Test" to identify children who might have an adverse reaction to the toxoid. Moloney’s work accelerated the vaccine’s broad use, especially in Canada, and rapidly brought diphtheria incidence down to almost zero by the early 30s.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Moloney played a critical role in improving the production of heparin and penicillin, and in the 1960s, developed Sulphated Insulin for diabetics resistant to regular insulin. Dr. Moloney led a very productive, though quiet life, earning his seventh patent at age 90 and living into his 99th year.


Dr. Raymond C. Parker (1903-1974)

Dr. Raymond C. Parker
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Dr. Raymond C. Parker was born in 1903 in Nova Scotia. It was in his lab at Connaught Laboratories that a key element of the Salk polio vaccine's success, "Medium 199," was developed.

In 1927, after completing a Ph.D. at Yale, Dr. Parker undertook animal cell growth studies in Berlin and New York that led to the publication of his seminal book, Methods of Tissue Culture. In 1941, he joined Connaught Laboratories and worked on producing typhus fever vaccine. He later turned his attention to tissue culture methods and cell nutrition research, especially cancer cells, and developing a purely synthetic cell growth medium.

To further work on a synthetic medium, Parker needed a skilled biochemist, which he found in Dr. Joseph F. Morgan. Along with support from Helen Morton, Parker's team quickly made progress in refining the complex mixture of organic chemicals required to prepare “Medium 199, “ which by 1950 was widely known as the world's first synthetic medium.

Coincident with Parker’s work on “199” was the launch of a major poliovirus research program at Connaught. In 1951 it was discovered that “199” worked remarkably well as a nutrient base for growing poliovirus and opening the door for Dr. Jonas Salk to first prepare a vaccine safe for human use.


Dr. Andrew .J. Rhodes.
Image source: Sanofi Pasteur Archives

Dr. Andrew J. Rhodes (1911-1995)

Dr. Andrew J. Rhodes was a leading virologist recruited in 1947 to head an expanded poliovirus research program at Connaught Labs, in the face of sharply rising polio epidemics, Rhodes rallied a team of researchers through a series of poliovirus studies – from searching rivers and sewage for poliovirus, to investigating a severe winter epidemic among an Arctic Inuit community.

This pioneering work proved critical to the production of the Salk polio vaccine, beginning with solving the key problem of how to grow the poliovirus in tissue cultures using “Medium 199.” Originally developed at Connaught for cancer research, “199” allowed Dr. Jonas Salk to test his new inactivated polio vaccine on humans for the first time. Rhodes and his team next tackled the challenge of producing the poliovirus on a large scale and developed the "Toronto Method," enabling an unprecedented mass field trial of Salk's vaccine in 1954.



Dr. Nelles Silverthorne (1901-2001)

Dr. Nelles Silverthorne
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Dr. Nelles Silverthorne was a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for over 50 years. He was also involved with several research projects at Connaught Laboratories, including developing a pertussis vaccine in the 1930s and was closely involved with poliovirus and polio vaccine research in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Dr. Silverthorne was born in Brantford, ON, and graduated in medicine from the University of Toronto in 1926. He specialized in infectious diseases, which in addition to pertussis and polio, included meningitis. He was also a pioneer of the oxygen tent and one of the first physicians in Canada to use penicillin.

In the early 1930s, Connaught began a focused pertussis vaccine research effort and in 1932, Dr. Silverthorne began collecting fresh samples of B. pertussis from his patients at the “Whooping Cough Clinic” at the Hospital for Sick Children. He then worked with his Connaught colleagues, particularly Dr. Donald Fraser, to select the best strains to use for preparing a vaccine.

After a series of clinical trials showed a protective value of about 80%, and Dr. Silverthorne testing the early batches on himself, this new generation of pertussis vaccine was ready for distribution in Canada by 1937. Pertussis vaccine became more widely used in the early 1940s when was it was combined with diphtheria toxoid into a single shot.


Dr. Edith Marjory Taylor (1899-1993)

Dr. Edith M. Taylor.
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Born into a Toronto family of 10 children, Dr. Edith Taylor played a major role in the development and production of several important products at Connaught Laboratories from the mid-1920s through the early 1960s. She also held the rare distinction of a Canadian woman earning a Ph.D. in the sciences, which she received in 1924 in Chemistry from the University of Toronto. She joined Connaught in 1925, working closely with Dr. Peter J. Moloney on immunochemistry, and in particular, the production of a more purified diphtheria toxin.

Dr. Taylor's work was critical to Connaught's initial production of diphtheria toxoid and expediting field trials during the late 1920s. The results of these trials were quite dramatic, demonstrating sharp declines in diphtheria incidence. She continued her research with Dr. Moloney on diphtheria toxoid, focusing on further refinements in production methods.

During World War II, Dr. Taylor was placed in charge of the diphtheria toxoid, tetanus toxoid and gas gangrene antitoxin production team, and she also made important contributions to the production of pertussis vaccine, working closely with another pioneering woman in vaccine production innovation at Connaught, Dr. Leone Farrell. At the end of the war, Dr. Taylor was awarded the Order of the British Empire and continued her research work on toxins, the improvement of heparin production and the initial production and testing of Salk polio vaccine before retiring in 1962.


Dr. Robert J. Wilson (1915-1989)

Dr. Robert J. Wilson
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Dr. Robert J. Wilson retired from Connaught Laboratories in 1980 after some 45 years of service, his retirement coinciding with the global eradication of smallpox, a success story in which he played a major personal and professional role.

Born in Edmonton, and after earning a M.A. in Bacteriology and Chemistry from the University of British Columbia in 1937, Wilson moved to the University of Toronto for his M.D. in 1942 and a D.P.H. in 1946 from the School of Hygiene. He was then appointed to Connaught Laboratories and, among other research interests, focused on the development and production of pertussis (whooping cought) and combined vaccines such as DPT and then DPT-Polio.

In 1966-67, the World Health Organization launched an intensive campaign to eradicate smallpox from the globe. Wilson, working closely with Dr. Paul Fenje as consultants to the Pan American Health Organization, focused on the upgrading of South and Central American smallpox vaccine production labs, the training of personnel, and the testing of their vaccines at Connaught. At the same time, Wilson oversaw Connaught’s provision of large quantities of high quality dried smallpox vaccine for the eradication effort.