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MassBiologics founded 125 years ago to protect public health

Nation’s only nonprofit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines based at UMass Medical School

By Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

November 18, 2019

MassBiologics of UMass Medical School, the only nonprofit, FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines in the United States, is marking its 125th anniversary. MassBiologics works to improve public health through applied research, development and production of biologic products, including vaccines, plasma derivatives and most recently, monoclonal antibodies.

It all began in 1894, as the state and the nation were grappling with the scourge of diphtheria.

“It was at the dawn of our understanding of how you could prevent and treat certain infections and the problem of the time was diphtheria,” said Mark Klempner, MD, executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics and professor of medicine. “Every week, the forerunner of the New England Journal of Medicine would publish the cases of diphtheria, mostly in children, what towns they occurred in and then they would publish shortly thereafter that there were this many fatalities. There were no drug companies around. The responsibility for protecting the citizens from these public health menaces fell to the commonwealth.”

“It was in that setting that MassBiologics was founded.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Health established MassBiologics to make diphtheria antitoxin at Harvard's Bussey Institute in Jamaica Plain. Two decades later, MassBiologics introduced diphtheria vaccine into general use in Massachusetts. The organization would go on to develop and manufacture biologic products for smallpox, typhoid, scarlet fever, tetanus and pertussis, among many others.

Learn more about the history of MassBiologics in this video.