We recently announced the launch of an exciting new Challenge series with BeyondPolio, an initiative of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation and the investment firm Spencer Trask to help support the global eradication of polio. Though rare in the Western world today, wild polioviruses are still circulating in a few remaining countries in Asia and Africa, where more than 1,000 new cases of paralytic polio are diagnosed each year. The initial Challenge in the series Increasing the Affordability of Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine in Low- and Middle-income Countries, seeks novel ideas to significantly reduce the cost of using IPV in countries where it is currently unaffordable. The solution to this Challenge will form the basis for a series of larger Challenges, aimed at helping to eradicate polio completely and maintain success once eradication is achieved. We asked Dr. Peter Salk, President of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation, to give us some background about the state of polio eradication and this Challenge series.
Hi Peter, and thank you for speaking with us today. Your Challenge aims to help close the final chapter on eradicating polio. People may be surprised to learn that polio is still a problem in some parts of the world. Can you tell us why it has been so difficult to rid the world of this disease?
Let me give you some background so that an answer to this question will make sense.
Polio has been around for a long time (an Egyptian stele from around 1400 BC shows a man with the typical signs of a leg paralyzed by polio). The disease became a huge problem in the early part of the last century when improvements in sanitation meant that children were not exposed to polioviruses while still protected by antibodies from their mothers. As a result, large scale epidemics took place, the worst of which in the U.S. occurred in 1952 when nearly 58,000 individuals — mostly children — were paralyzed or died.
With the development of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), which entered use in 1955, and then the live attenuated oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV), which was initially deployed between 1959-1963, it became possible to envision eradicating polio completely. This goal is feasible since humans are the only natural hosts for polioviruses — unlike influenza, for example, which is carried by many other animal species.
A Global Polio Eradication Initiative, spearheaded by Rotary International, WHO, the CDC and UNICEF, was undertaken beginning in 1988, relying primarily on the use of OPV, which is inexpensive and easy to administer. Since the start of that campaign, the number of cases of paralytic polio caused by wild polioviruses has fallen from approximately 350,000 cases per year around the world to fewer than 2,000 cases a year over the last decade. That’s a decrease of over 99%.
Why did you decide to post your Challenge to the InnoCentive Solver network?
The BeyondPolio program is the brainchild of Kevin Kimberlin, Chairman of Spencer Trask & Co., the investment firm that is helping carry out the BeyondPolio initiative in conjunction with the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation. Kevin had played a major role in the HIV vaccine project my father had devoted himself to in the last years of his life, and he and my father had a close and meaningful relationship. The idea for using InnoCentive as part of the BeyondPolio initiative derived from Spencer Trask’s familiarity with InnoCentive as a result of having helped with its initial financing, and from Spencer Trask’s awareness of the track record of effectiveness of InnoCentive’s Challenge Driven Innovation programs. The InnoCentive platform appeared to be a good way to get the word out to a large number of creative and intelligent “Solvers”, and it seemed well-suited for BeyondPolio’s series of Challenges.
OK, so if the eradication program reduced the number of cases of polio in the world caused by wild polioviruses by 99%, that means there still is another 1% of the way to go. Why has it been so hard to get the job finished over the last 10 years?