John B. Robbins has passed away at age 86. Robbins, who contributed to the development of a vaccine for bacterial meningitis, was recognized with the 1996 Clinical Medical Research Award along with co-recipients Rachel Schneerson, Porter Anderson, and David Smith.
The vaccine protects infants from a deadly bacterium called type b Hemophilus influenza or Hib. Hib causes meningitis, which leads to developmental disability and death in young children.
Before the vaccine became available in the late 1980s, 13,000 children each year in the US developed severe Hib meningitis. Robbins and Schneerson, along with Anderson and Smith (working independently as teams), discovered that the key to an effective Hib vaccine was the development of a polysaccharide-protein conjugate in which the polysaccharide capsule of the Hib bacterium is chemically bound to a protein antigen. Both groups carried the vaccine development from initial discovery to the successful marketing of a medical product.
The work of Robbins reduced the incidence of Hib meningitis by 98 percent in less than 10 years.