In 1963, Prof. Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus and in 1965, published his discovery. In 1966, he proposed the relationship between the ‘Australian antigen’ and acute viral hepatitis might be transmitted through transfusion.
Blumberg and his team proposed to use hemophiliac patients to create a vaccine, and researchers at Merck & Co believed that this proposal could be instrumental in finding a vaccine. After getting the green light from his company, Blumberg began research on the hepatitis B vaccine in 1971. After countless researches and tests, a vaccine was eventually successfully produced from a surface antigen for hepatitis B. The vaccine provided more than 90% immunity for hepatitis B, and a plasma-derived hepatitis B vaccine was later approved in 1981.
In 1981, Hilleman and his team treated blood serum with pepsin, urea, and formaldehyde to obtain a safe vaccine before further improvements to the vaccine were made in 1986. As of 2003, over 150 countries and regions were using the vaccine. Hilleman believed that the hepatitis B vaccine was his company’s (Merck & Co) greatest achievement. Due to the possible complication of liver cancer from hepatitis B, Hilleman’s vaccine can be said to be the world’s first cancer vaccine. In Taiwan, the usage of said vaccine has lowered the prevalence rate of hepatitis among infants by 99%.
Dr. R. Palmer Beasley was a physician, epidemiologist, and public health educator from the U.S. In 1972, Beasley visited Taiwan for the second time and conducted hepatitis B research. In 1975, vertical transmission between mother and infant was proven. While in 1981, Beasley showed that there existed a causal relationship between hepatitis and liver cancer. With the team consisting of Dr. Hwang Lu-Yu, Pediatrics, National Taiwan University Hospital; Prof. Lin Jia-Chin of National Taiwan University College of Public Health; postgraduate students Chen Chien-Jen, Twu Shiing-Jer; and Dr. Chang Mei-Hwei, Pediatrics, National Taiwan University Hospital; Beasley assisted in the pediatric screening for hepatitis and proved that the hepatitis B vaccine is able to effectively disrupt vertical transmission. A vaccine program was launched in 1984, and the country saw a significant decrease in newborn children carriers.