Development of Lifesaving Vaccines by Wistar Providers


Hilary Koprowski, MD

Many advances in the fields of virology and immunology came during the 30-plus year period when Hilary Koprowski, MD was the Wistar Institute’s director and then in the years following when he was a Professor Laureate and on the Board of Trustees. During this illustrious scientific career, Dr. Koprowski published more than 875 articles and helped develop a number of lifesaving vaccines.

Born in Poland, Dr. Koprowski lived in several other countries before he settled in the United States. While in Brazil working with the Rockefeller Foundation, he developed a vaccine for yellow fever. After moving to the Wistar Institute, Dr. Koprowski and his team developed the first polio vaccine based on an attenuated polio virus. In addition, during Dr. Koprowski’s directorship, Wistar scientists created the rubella vaccine, which has since eradicated the disease from much of the world.

Dr. Koprowski also helped develop the modern rabies vaccine. Louis Pasteur developed the first vaccine for human rabies prior to the 1900s. In the 1960s and 70s, Dr. Koprowski, along with his Wistar colleagues Stanley Plotkin, MD and Tadeusz Wiktor, DVM, created a human rabies vaccine with a stronger immune response, fewer side effects and less pain. The vaccine produced by this group now protects humans after a bite by a suspected rabid animal. When administered soon after exposure it is nearly 100% effective – this same vaccine is given to veterinarians and others in situations at high risk of contracting rabies.

Dr. Koprowski is also credited with creating the first functional monoclonal antibody, which recognized antigens associated with colorectal cancer. Today it is used to diagnose pancreatic cancer in blood.

Although Dr. Koprowski passed away in 2013 and Dr. Wiktor died in 1986, some of their rabies antibodies have recently been made available by the Wistar Institute on Kerafast’s website. These antibodies recognize rabies virus glycoproteins or nucleoproteins and are suitable for immunofluorescence, virus neutralization and binding assays.

For more information on the available rabies antibodies, click here.