COLLABORATING
TO CURE

Over the past 125 years, we’ve seen the world change through the power of medicine and invention.

While each pivotal milestone has been unique, one thing they have in common is that we haven’t done it alone. At MSD, we have always believed that great medical breakthroughs rely on teamwork – from within and outside of MSD – and our history has proven it. We are proud to have worked in partnership with companies, academics, governments, patient organizations, healthcare professionals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multilateral organizations and others in the private sector -- to help improve lives around the world and continue to solve some of the world’s most serious illnesses.

Image: Handshake

In the early 1940s, MSD entered into an important partnership that would help treat those affected by one of the deadliest diseases in history: tuberculosis. In the early 1900s, tuberculosis, also known as the “The Great White” plague, killed one out of every seven people in the U.S. and Europe. In 1944, with support from MSD chemists, Dr. Selman Waksman and his colleague Albert Schatz of Rutgers University reported the discovery of the first effective antibiotic against tuberculosis.

Image: Waksman

Dr. Selman Waksman

Waksman received support from MSD chemists, use of the testing facilities at the MSD Institute in Rahway, N.J., and assurance that pilot plant facilities would be available for producing substances. In exchange, MSD received patent rights to any processes that Dr. Waksman developed. Dr. Waksman, later concerned that he had "turned over valuable public-health processes to a single organization for commercial exploitation," asked MSD to abandon these valuable patent rights.

 

Given the many people suffering and dying from this disease, MSD president George W. Merck looked beyond issues of short-term profitability and turned over the patents to a Rutgers foundation, so this breakthrough antibiotic could be licensed to multiple manufacturers for production. To quickly respond to one of the most urgent health care needs of the time, MSD constructed a streptomycin plant in Elkton, Va., and immediately began designing a large-scale production process for the antibiotic. MSD became the first company to achieve large scale production of streptomycin in April 1946.

Dr. Selman A. Waksman (left), John Holcombe, plant manager (center), and Dr. Edward J. Nolan, branch plant supervisor (right), watching the construction of the new streptomycin building at the Elkton, Va., plant.

 

As a result of Dr. Waksman’s collaboration with MSD, it only took three years to take the antibiotic from discovery to mass production – a major feat for the industry and the lives at stake. As Dr. Waksman remarked in his 1952 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine:

With the removal of the danger lurking in infectious diseases and epidemics, society can face a better future, can prepare for a time when other diseases not now subject to therapy will be brought under control.

Today, MSD remains committed to developing partnerships and ideas to help improve care and access to medicine around the world. Partnerships continue to fuel our quest to cure, including our efforts to develop new medications, helping to eradicate issues such as maternal mortality, and fighting diseases through a comprehensive approach of treatment, prevention, education and access. MSD has a rich history of partnering, and we’re grateful to the many minds and organizations that have collaborated with us to discover and invent new ways, every day, to help the world be well.