Hilary Koprowski, Polio Vaccine Developer, Dies at 96

Hilary Koprowski, 1950sHilary Koprowski, Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and a member of the advisory board for The History of Vaccines, died on April 11, 2013. He was 96 years old.

Born in Poland in 1915, Koprowski’s long tenure in vaccine research began in 1939 when he received an M.D. degree from the University of Warsaw. After moving to the United States, he developed the first live oral polio vaccine to be used in large-scale trials, administered to the first child in 1950.

Koprowski became the Director of the Wistar Institute in 1957, and is credited with ushering in “the modern era of scientific discovery” there, making the institute a leader in vaccine development and research. He remained a Wistar Professor Laureate and a member of the Board of Trustees until his death. Under his direction, Wistar scientists also developed the rubella vaccine that is still used today as part of the MMR combination shot, as well as rabies vaccines for both humans and animals.

His research expanded in the 1970s to include monoclonal antibodies – antibodies that are developed to bind against a specific substance. Today, they are used to help detect and diagnose cancer. After leaving Wistar in the 1990s, Koprowski worked as a professor of cancer biology at Thomas Jefferson University as well as Director of the school’s Center of Neurovirology and Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories. He continued work on vaccine development, this time in efforts to develop plant-based vaccines.

Dr. Koprowski was a recipient of many foreign decorations, including Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus Medal and Great Order of Merit with the Star award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, the New York Academy of Sciences (where he served as President in 1959), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

We have many videos of Dr. Koprowski on our site, including this one in which he discusses his announcement of his first tests of OPV on children.