In 1957, Alick Isaacs and Jean Lindenmann, both at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, set out to understand why inactivated influenza virus could induce interference in cells and tissues, preventing infection by "live" virus.
That the inactivated viruses physically blocked infection seemed unlikely. So, the two incubated chorio-allatoic membranes from chicken eggs with heat-inactivated influenza. They then washed the membranes and tried to infect them with normal virus. An interfering agent produced in response to the inactive virus seemed to be protecting both incubated membranes and fresh membranes placed in the fluids from incubated membranes. "To distinguish it from the heated influenza virus," the authors wrote, "we have called the newly released interfering agent, 'interferon.'"