Hilary Koprowski, M.D. (1916-2013)

Professor Laureate

Hilary Koprowski, M.D., 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.

A distinguished virologist, Koprowski was an early leader 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 then Belgian Congo. Under Koprowski’s leadership, Wistar scientists developed the rubella vaccine that has eradicated the disease from much of the world, a rabies vaccine based on tissue culture for humans, and an oral bait rabies vaccine for animals.

Koprowski and his colleagues also developed the first functional monoclonal antibody in the late 1970s. The monoclonal antibody-recognizing antigen of colorectal cancer is used today to diagnose pancreatic cancer in blood. Later in his career, Koprowski focused on developing biomedical products in plants. For instance, along with colleagues in Poland, he conducted successful clinical trials with a hepatitis B vaccine in lettuce.

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

Dr. Koprowski passed away in 2013. A symposium honoring his scientific legacy was held at The Wistar Institute in 2014.