Hilary Koprowski

Born 5th December, 1916 (Warsaw, Poland) - Died 13th November, 2013 (Wynewood, Philadelphia, USA)

A pioneer in the development of the oral polio and modern rabies vaccines, Koprowski was the first scientist, together with colleagues, to be granted a patent for monoclonal antibodies.

(Photo credit: Anne Schoemaker)

Family

Born to Jewish parents, Koprowski was the only son of one of Russia's first female dentists and a Russian soldier who had survived the sinking of his ship during the Russian-Japanese war. In 1938 Koprowski married Irena Koprowska, a fellow medical student, with whom he had two sons. When the Nazis invaded Poland Koprowski initally looked to join the Polish army, but was forced to depart with Irena, then in the late stages of pregnancy, and his parents. They fled temporarily to Rome, before escaping to Rio de Janeiro and then New York in December 1944.

Education

At the age of five Koprowski started learning the piano, going on to earn music degrees from the Warsaw Conservatory of Music and the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. While fourth best in his class at the Warsaw Conservatory, Koprowski simultaneously trained in medicine at Warsaw University, believing a career in medicine offered him greater options to excel. Completing his medical degree in 1939, the outbreak of the Second Wold War reinforced his decision to pursue a medical career. This did not stop him playing the piano or composing music throughout his life.

Career

A chance meeting with a former schoolmate in Brazil helped secure Koprowski a position at the Rockefeller Foundation in Rio, launching his foray into virology and vaccine research. His initial efforts in this area were devoted to the development of a live-virus vaccine against yellow fever. In 1945 Koprowski became a researcher for Lederle Laboratories in New York where he focused on developing a polio vaccine. From 1957 and 1991 Koprowski was director of the Wistar Institute, leading it to become internationally renowned for vaccine research and a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center.

Achievements

Koprowski is most well known for his development of the first oral polio vaccine. Whilst at the Wistar he also helped develop the rubella vaccine that was to eradicate the disease from much of the world, a rabies vaccine based on tissue culture for humans, and an oral bait rabies vaccine for animals. In the late 1970s he and his Wistar colleagues were granted the first monoclonal antibody American patents which he used to co-found Centocor, one of the first biotechnology companies to commercialise monoclonal antibody diagnostics and therapeutics.

Hilary Koprowski: timeline of key events

A pioneer in the development of the oral polio and modern rabies vaccines, Koprowski was the first scientist, together with colleagues, to be granted a patent for monoclonal antibodies. 1916-12-05T00:00:00+00001957-01-01T00:00:00+0000Koprowski uses myeloma cells from Milstein's laboratory to generate monoclonal antibodies against tumour antigens. This work forms the basis of the first patent later awarded for monoclonal antibodies.1976-09-01T00:00:00+0000Hilary Koprowski, Polish born virologist and Carlo Croce, Italian born geneticist, both based at the Wistar Institute, file for the first US patent for monoclonal antibodies. The antibodies are made against viral antigens using cells supplied from Milstein's laboratory in September 1976. 1977-06-01T00:00:00+0000Hilary Koprowski, Polish-born virologist and director of the Wistar Institute, together with American entrepreneur Michael Wall establish Centocor with Dutch-born biochemist Hubert Schoemaker and American scientist Ted Allen. Located in Philadelphia, Centocor is the second American company established to commercialise monoclonal antibodies for medical diagnostics and therapeutics.1979-05-01T00:00:00+0000Hilary Koprowski, Polish-born virologist, and colleagues granted US patent for monoclonal antibodies against tumour antigens (US Patent 4,172,124). The patent helps in the building of Centocor, the second American biotechnology set up to commercialise monoclonal antibodies. It also causes a major political controversy in Britain as the patent makes broad claims, essentially patenting the technique first developed by Cesar Milstein and George Kohler in 1975.1979-10-01T00:00:00+0000The vaccine was developed by Stanley Plotkin, Hilary Koprowski and Tadeusz Wiktor at the Wistar Institute1980-01-01T00:00:00+0000Tests begin with 17-1A, also known as edrecolomab, a monoclonal antibody developed at the Wistar Institute. 1980-12-01T00:00:00+0000German regulatory authorities approve Panorex as an adjuvant therapy, that is a drug given in addition to primary or main treatment, for postoperative colorectal cancer. The drug originated from resesearch undertaken by Hilary Koprowski and his colleagues at the Wistar Institute. 1995-01-01T00:00:00+0000German regulatory authorities approve edrecolomab (Panorex) as an adjuvant treatment for post-operative colorectal cancer. The monoclonal antibody, originally known as 17-1A, was developed at the Wistar Institute and commercially developed for market by Centocor. 1995-01-01T00:00:00+0000A pioneer in the development of the oral polio and modern rabies vaccines, Koprowski was the first scientist, together with colleagues, to be granted a patent for monoclonal antibodies. 2013-11-13T00:00:00+0000
Date Event People Places
5 Dec 1916Hilary Koprowski was born in Warsaw, PolandKoprowskiWarsaw, Poland
1957Hilary Koprowski appointed fifth director of the Wistar InstituteKoprowskiWistar Institute
September 1976Cesar Milstein supplies myeloma cells to Hilary Koprowski at the Wistar Institute for producing monoclonal antibodiesKoprowski, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Wistar Institute
June 1977First US patent application filed for monoclonal antibodiesCroce, Koprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
May 1979Centocor foundedKoprowski, Schoemaker, WallWistar Institute
October 1979First US patent for monoclonal antibodies grantedKoprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
1980US licensed first rabies vaccine for human useKoprowski, Plotkin, WiktorWistar Institute
December 1980Clinical tials begin with a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancerKoprowskiWistar Institute
1995First monoclonal antibody drug for cancer approved in EuropeKoprowski 
1995First monoclonal antibody therapeutic for cancer approved for marketKoprowskiWistar Institute, Centocor
13 Nov 2013Hilary Koprowski died in Wynewood, Philadelphia, USAKoprowski 

5 Dec 1916

Hilary Koprowski was born in Warsaw, Poland

1957

Hilary Koprowski appointed fifth director of the Wistar Institute

Sep 1976

Cesar Milstein supplies myeloma cells to Hilary Koprowski at the Wistar Institute for producing monoclonal antibodies

Jun 1977

First US patent application filed for monoclonal antibodies

May 1979

Centocor founded

Oct 1979

First US patent for monoclonal antibodies granted

1980

US licensed first rabies vaccine for human use

Dec 1980

Clinical tials begin with a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancer

1995

First monoclonal antibody drug for cancer approved in Europe

1995

First monoclonal antibody therapeutic for cancer approved for market

13 Nov 2013

Hilary Koprowski died in Wynewood, Philadelphia, USA