Manuel Elkin Patarroyo (born November 3, 1947) is a Colombian pathologist who developed the world's first synthetic vaccine for malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitos that affects millions of people in the Third World every year. The vaccine was evaluated in clinical trials carried out by the WHO in Gambia, Tanzania and Thailand, and had mixed results- Susan Aldridge, Magic Molecules: How Drugs Work (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 89. However, the vaccine has been proven effective at around 30 percent of the times and could save an estimated 1 million lives out of an annual death toll of 3 million; which is the most effective vaccine against malaria to this day.
The vaccine has been proven effective between 30 and 60 percent of the time to those over one year old. At a 30% effectiveness rate, the vaccine could protect 100 million people from malaria, and could save 1 million lives out of an annual death toll of 3 million. No vaccine has ever protected that many people. Patarroyo claims that his work and the efforts of his Third World colleagues are often treated with a condescension bordering on racism by northern scientists. He points out that it took his Bogota laboratory four years to develop the world's first safe and effective malaria vaccine, but six years to have it recognized. There were discussions with a major pharmaceutical company to manufacture the vaccine in Switzerland, but that would have made the price very high. Patarroyo insisted that the vaccine be produced in Columbia, in order to keep the price low. If produced in Europe or the US, the price per dose would have been $10, but by producing the vaccine in Colombia, it is estimated that it will cost 40 cents per dose. Rather than profit from his discovery, Patarroyo turned the patent for his vaccine over to the World Health Organization (WHO) for free, because he felt that the benefits should go to mankind, not to large pharmaceutical houses or rich investors.
Patarroyo studied medicine at the National University of Colombia, received a scholarship to Yale University, and subsequently received his PhD from Rockefeller University in New York.
He was working on improving the vaccine at the Instituto Nacional de Inmunologia based in the Hospital San Juan de Dios in Bogota, Colombia. Unfortunately, lack of government funding and mismanagement led to the bankruptcy of the Hospital San Juan de Dios and therefore to the relocation of his lab. After having worked for more than two decades at the Hospital San Juan de Dios, Dr. Patarroyo could not deter the demise of this very important Colombian teaching hospital.