Dead Ends to Somewhere – The Story of a Vaccine to Save 500,000 Children Worldwide and the Reluctant Student Who Invented It is an engaging story about the life and times of Dr. Richard Ward, a virologist who progressed from a typical struggling student in grammar school to be a Virology Section Chief at the EPA in Cincinnati, Ohio with subsequent research positions in Sandia and many important research projects. The presentation documents methodically the evolution of important scientific virology research from the lab to approval by regulatory bodies in the United States and abroad.
Times were hard in the early years. Richard’s mother had practical survival skills like soap production from pig fat and canning plant food. Even the weather was severe. In Montana, there are 8 months of winter. A stay at Montana State College cemented a budding career in biochemistry. The next stop was a graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley. After many tribulations, Richard received an A- in biochemistry and ultimately a PhD in biochemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. His early attempts at
securing employment in academe were not successful due to his naivete in job interviews and lack of an understanding as to how academic positions are
An important initial research challenge was extracting Cesium-137 from nuclear waste for treatment aimed at inactivating human viruses in sludge. Enteric viruses replicate in the intestine and are released in feces to enter sewage. Polio viruses die during sludge digestion in the absence of oxygen due to ammonia generated in the digestive tract. The presence of rotavirus in sludge had major significance if the waste product was used as fertilizer. Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Richard Ward learned more about irradiating sludge at Sandia. The novelty was the use of radiation and heat during sludge treatment but there were complications in large scale testing.
Dr. Richard Ward explains how a Rotarix trial was conducted in six European countries . Nearly 4000 infants were administered two doses of Rotarix. Two of the critical outcomes of this trial were that the vaccine provided 96% protection against severe rotavirus disease and 75% protection against hospital admissions due to gastroenteritis of any cause. This is a significant result in clinical trials; however, manufacturing a drug can bring complications from inorganic additives. The contents of a vaccine should be disclosed to recipients and their physicians prior to administering the vaccine in everyday practice. In addition, contraindications of the drug must be determined and disclosed fairly. Rotarix contains no preservatives. 1)
By 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the vaccine be used widely throughout Latin America and Europe. Ultimately, the FDA allowed the use of the vaccine in the United States after initial misgivings. The processes leading to these agency approvals are explained at length by Dr. Richard Ward.
WHO recommends that rotavirus vaccine for infants should be included in all national immunization programs. In countries where diarrheal deaths account for over 10% of mortality among children aged 5 years or younger, the introduction of the vaccine is strongly recommended. WHO recommends that the first dose of either RotaTeq or Rotarix be administered at age 6–15 weeks. The maximum age for administering the last dose of either vaccine should be 32 weeks. 2)
Dead Ends to Somewhere is a very detailed delineation of the scientific career
of Dr. Richard Ward. The presentation has many anecdotes and specific
references to failures and successes in order to provide the reader with a fair delineation as to how success was attained.
The story of Dr. Richard Ward is easy to read. The details of his experiences
in academe will result in empathy from readers , as well as a keen understanding of the inner workings of academic institutions, drug manufacturers and the drug approval process itself. An aspiring academic researcher could learn much from reading this book.