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When Vaccine Development is Family Business: Thomas Insel's Conflicted Role on Vaccines and Autism

Posted Aug 29 2009 12:00am

By Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill

Insel brothers (Four Insel Brothers, Four MDs (left to right) Jonathan, Richard, Thomas, and Paul)

Thomas R. Insel, the psychiatrist in charge of autism research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a family connection to one of the vaccines potentially implicated in the sharp rise in autism rates since 1990. His brother, Richard A. Insel, was part of both the research team that developed the vaccine for Haemophilus influenza B (Hib) and the company that profited from the introduction of the first commercial Hib vaccine formulation. Richard Insel was a co-founder and director of Praxis Biologics--a vaccine development company in Rochester, New York--that together with a research team at the University of Rochester developed and then sold HibTITER®, a vaccine for Hib first licensed for children in December 1988 and for infants in October 1990.  Largely based on the momentum of its successful Hib vaccine, Praxis Biologics was sold in 1989 to American Cyanamid in a deal valued at $190 million. As co-founder and director, Richard Insel held shares that gave him a 2% interest in the company, making his personal share of the transaction worth close to $4 million.

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