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Hilary Koprowski (1916-2013)

The Wistar Institute notes with sadness and respect the death on April 11 of Hilary Koprowski, M.D., a world-renowned scientist who left an enduring legacy at Wistar.

Dr. Koprowski, was director of The Wistar Institute from 1957 to 1991, a period during which Wistar achieved international prominence for its vaccine research and earned designation as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center. At Wistar, Dr. Koprowski built a prestigious research faculty by recruiting top biologists from around the world. In the years following his departure from Wistar, Dr. Koprowski held the title of Professor Laureate and also served on the Institute’s board of trustees.

“Hilary Koprowski left an enduring mark on medical science and the health of humankind, and his many accomplishments serve as a testament to his legacy,” said Wistar President and Chief Executive Officer Russel E. Kaufman, M.D. “Wistar’s researchers preserve that legacy every day as we strive to save lives through science. On behalf of The Wistar Institute, I offer sincere condolences to his family on his passing.”

A distinguished virologist, Dr, Koprowski was a pioneer in the effort to develop a polio vaccine. He developed the first polio vaccine, based on oral administration of attenuated poliovirus, which proved successful in clinical trials in Eastern Europe and the Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). Under Dr. Koprowski’s leadership, Wistar scientists developed the rubella vaccine that has eradicated German measles from much of the world. During his tenure as director Wistar developed a new tissue culture-based rabies vaccine for humans that is more effective and less painful than the traditional Pasteur technique, and which is today’s standard of care for people who have been exposed to rabies. Wistar researchers also developed a rabies vaccine for animals.

In the 1970s, Dr. Koprowski and his colleagues developed and patented the first technology to produce monoclonal antibodies. At Wistar, monoclonal antibodies would be used as a research tool for molecular virology and tumor biology, but researchers soon saw their potential as a new sort of therapeutic designed to attack a specific target on the surface of cells. Many of today’s modern cancer drugs owe their conceptual basis to Koprowski’s pioneering work.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Koprowski had published more than 875 scientific publications and received numerous honors and awards including the 2005 Andrzej Drawicz Award from the president of Poland, the Chevalier Legion d’Honneur (France), and Order of the Smile (Poland). Dr. Koprowski was  a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.