Albert Calmette (1863-1933) and Camille Guérin (1872-1961): the C and G of BCG vaccine

Paper by Dr Barbara J Hawgood

Journal of Medical Biography Vol 15 (Aug 2007) p139-146


Early in his medical career, Albert Calmette showed a remarkable aptitude for bacteriology and, in 1891, he opened the first daughter Pasteur Institute in Saigon, French Indochina at the request of Louis Pasteur. In 1894, at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Calmette succeeded in developing an antiserum to cobra venom and so initiated antivenomous serotherapy. In 1895 Calmette was asked to found a second daughter, Pasteur Institute in Lille. Soon he was joined by the young veterinarian, Camille Guérin, and so began a unique partnership, the two men striving to free people from the dreadful scourge of tuberculosis. Investigating the intestinal route of tuberculous infection, Calmette and Guérin began to grow Mycobacterium tuberculosis bovis in a beef bile-glycerine medium. With continuous replanting of the culture in this medium (from 70 to 235 times), an attenuated bacillus of fixed properties was discovered; this Calmette called Bacille-Calmette-Guérin (BCG). Exhaustive testing of BCG showed its safety and effectiveness in protecting young animals against tuberculosis. In 1924 vaccination of newborn infants with BCG began in France and spread worldwide.

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