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Content :

90 Years of Diabetes Innovation

Click below to see how insulin grew from a small laboratory discovery in Toronto to one of the most widely known medical treatments for diabetes management:

ALMOST A CENTURY AGO, DR. JOHN G. FITZGERALD BECAME ONE OF THIS COUNTRY'S GREATEST PIONEERS OF PUBLIC HEALTH BY PURSUING HIS VISION TO MAKE VACCINE AND ANTITOXINS WIDELY AVAILABLE TO ALL CANADIANS.

The first of its kind

In 1913, Dr. FitzGerald, an Associate Professor of Hygiene at the University of Toronto, proposed an idea to the University’s Board of Governors. It was an ambitious plan – to create the first self-supporting, university-based facility in the world that combined public health teaching and biomedical research with the development, manufacture and distribution of antitoxins and vaccines as a public service.

Local production of diphtheria antitoxin

While the Board considered his proposal, Dr. FitzGerald decided to forge ahead, driven by the devastating toll of diphtheria among children. Using his wife’s dowry, FitzGerald built a small stable and laboratory in a colleague’s backyard on Barton Avenue in Toronto. Within a few weeks, FitzGerald was producing high-quality diphtheria antitoxin for one-fifth the cost of the imported commercial product.

Opening of the Antitoxin Laboratory

The Board of Governors approved his proposal on May 1, 1914, and the Antitoxin Laboratory in the University of Toronto’s Department of Hygiene was born. The onset of World War I and a global shortage of tetanus antitoxin prompted the expansion of the Laboratories with the donation of a large property north of the city and the construction of new buildings that represented the latest in design and scientific equipment. The new facilities officially opened in 1917 and the organization was named Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories after Canada’s Governor General during the war, the Duke of Connaught.

Connaugh Laboratories of yesterday and today

In the 1920s, Connaught underwent rapid growth after the discovery of insulin at the university and the development of large-scale insulin production methods. With major contributions to the development of other key biological health products, especially vaccines to immunize against diphtheria, pertussis and polio, Connaught quickly became Canada’s largest vaccine company, remaining part of the University of Toronto until 1972. Today the company is known as Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi Group. The Board of Governors approved his proposal on May 1, 1914, and the Antitoxin Laboratory in the University of Toronto’s Department of Hygiene was born. The Laboratory and Stable opened on the Connaught Campus. The two-story laboratory building represented the latest in design and equipment. In the 1920s, Connaught underwent rapid growth after the discovery of insulin at the university and the development of large-scale insulin production methods. This laboratory eventually became Canada’s largest vaccine company, today called Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of sanofi-aventis Group.

Diabetes innovation: an overview

Home testing for sugar in the urine was first introduced in 1925. Drops of urine were mixed in a test tube with Benedict's solution which was then put into boiling water for five minutes. The color of the liquid indicated the presence of sugar: greenish (light sugar), yellow (moderate) or red/orange (heavy). Almost a decade later, Harold Himsworth introduced the idea of two main types of diabetes. He proposed that some people with diabetes are more sensitive to the glucose-lowering effects of insulin, whereas others are insulin-insensitive, or insulin resistant. This was the first major step in understanding the differences between the two conditions that we know today as type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Blood glucose testing and diabetes management

While insulin helps manage diabetes, it is only during the 1940’s that scientists make the connection between diabetes and long-term complications such as kidney failure and eye disease. In the late 1950’s, the invention of a “dip-and-read” urine test by Drs. Helen and Alfred Free improved home testing of blood glucose by enabling people with diabetes to instantly monitor blood glucose level. It is only almost 25 years later that the first glucose meters for use at home became available.

In 1968, Tom Clemens applied for a patent on what became the Ames Reflectance Meter, which will be known as the first blood glucose meter. A year later, the first portable blood glucose meter is developed. Revolutionary in the management of diabetes, the first portable and commercialised insulin pump is made available in 1979 for people with diabetes.

Using the Edmonton Protocol, as research progress, Dr. James Shapiro performs the first successful islet cell transplant to treat severe type 1 diabetes. In 2006, the United Nations recognizes November 14 (Banting’s birthday) as World Diabetes Day.

Building on a tradition of innovation

As we work to improve the lives of people with diabetes, Sanofi, a world leader in diabetes care, is moving beyond conventional thinking in diabetes management. Our advanced treatments, diagnostic tools and support services are just the beginning. We are working hard in partnership with everyone committed to diabetes care, developing innovative solutions to help people with diabetes live as people, not as patients.

At Sanofi Canada, our focus is to simplify the management of a complex disease - for people with diabetes and their healthcare providers. We focus on the needs of the patient and the public at large by demonstrating the added value of our products. As an example, for patients with diabetes, reductions in hypoglycemic events can reduce emergency hospital visits, and increase patient satisfaction.

We continue this tradition of innovation today, with a holistic approach that integrates therapeutic innovations, award-winning devices, innovative monitoring and personalized support services.

Last update: November 29, 2011