Hilary Koprowski Dies: Polio Vaccine Developer Passes At 96

Dr. Hilary Koprowski died on Thursday at the age of 96. The pioneering virologist was best known for developing the first successful oral polio vaccine.

Koprowski was not as well known as fellow researchers Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, but his 1950 clinical trial on polio was the first to prove it was possible to vaccinate against the disease.

Despite his fellow researchers’ celebrity status, Koprowski was not jealous. His son, Christopher, explained on Saturday that his father enjoyed the scientific recognition he received, but was glad he didn’t have the same celebrity status. Christopher added:

“He enjoyed not having his scientific work disrupted. Not that he was a modest individual, mind you.”

His son added that Hilary Koprowski died after being sick for several months. He passed away in the same Wynnewood, Pennsylvania home he’d lived in since 1957.

Along with his talent in the lab, Koprowski, a Polish-born immigrant, was a talented musician. Penniless in Rio de Janeiro, he made money by teaching piano lessons. Eventually, he hooked up with a lab in Brazil and moved to the United States.

Hilary Koprowski self-administered the live-virus oral vaccine he developed before the 1950 clinical trial. He did so about two years before the dead form of the virus was approved for testing with the Natonal Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’ backing. The dead form was injectable and engineered by Salk.

Sabin was the first to have the more-effective oral version of the polio vaccine licensed for use by the FDA in the United States. After working on the polio vaccine, Hilary Koprowski went on to become the director of The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

He served there from 1957 until 1991. The independent research institution flourished under his watchful eye. The institute developed the rubella vaccine that was responsible for eradicating the disease in most of the world. The institute also developed a more effective rabies vaccine during that time.

Christopher Koprowski added of life with his father, “He was a great dad. He was colorful, charismatic. He’s still the most brilliant person I’ve ever met.” It is not clear what funeral arrangements there will be for Dr. Hilary Koprowski.