BCG History

Albert Calmette 1863-1933: founder of antivenomous serotherapy and of antituberculous BCG vaccination
Hawgood BJ

In 1891 in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Dr. Albert Calmette established the first daughter Pasteur Institute for the protection of the local population against rabies and smallpox. Inspired by the discovery of diphtheria antitoxin by Behring, Calmette studied ways of raising serum against cobra venom. In 1895, now in Lille at the second daughter institute that he established, Calmette produced anticobra serum for therapeutic use that was to revolutionize the treatment of snakebite worldwide. The incidence of tuberculosis in the working class of the industrial north shocked Calmette. In response, firstly he organized an antituberculous dispensary to provide assistance to the sick and help limit the spread of the disease by improving social hygiene and secondly he devoted himself, with the assistance of Camille Guerin, to obtaining an attenuated live strain of tubercle bacilli with fixed biological characteristics for use as a vaccine. Such a strain developed during repeated passage of a culture of Mycobacterium bovis grown on a bile potato medium. In 1919, Dr. Albert Calmette took up the appointment of Sub-Director of the Pasteur Institute of Paris. Prolonged trials of BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine showed it to be safe and vaccination of very young infants born of tuberculous mothers commenced in 1921. The use of BCG vaccine as a prophylactic against tuberculosis spread world-wide and has remained important in combatting this scourge.

Toxicon 1999 Sep;37(9):1241-58
PMID: 10400286 UI: 99325873