In 1957 Koprowski was recruited to be the director of the Wistar Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He described the facility upon his arrival as “more a museum of skeletons than a site of research.” Koprowski was also a professor of research medicine and microbiology. Under his leadership, Wistar scientists developed the Rubella (German measles) vaccine, virtually eliminating the disease from much of the world. Along with his colleagues, Koprowski developed a more effective rabies vaccine than the one developed by Louis Pasteur, as well as an oral bait version for animals. During the late 1970s, Koprowski led the way in the development of the first functional monoclonal antibodies, which are used in cancer immunotherapy and to detect cancer antigens.
For his research achievements at the Wister Institute, Koprowski received the Philadelphia Award of 1989. When proposing Koprowski for the award, Dr. Luther W. Brady wrote that Koprowski “has probably done more to benefit mankind in general than any other current medical investigator [in Philadelphia].”
After thirty-four years as director of Wistar, Koprowski was dismissed by the institute’s board of trustees in 1991. He and the board sued each other in federal court, with Koprowski charging age and personal discrimination, and the board pointing to the institute’s deficit and the biomedical firm, Centocor, which Koprowski had cofounded. The issue apparently was whether scientists, or the university, should profit from discoveries. None could dispute, however, that Koprowski had transformed the Wistar Institute into a world-renowned center for biomedical research, with a staff that had expanded from 4 to over 150 scientists.
In 1992 Koprowski was hired by Thomas Jefferson University as the Director of the Center of Neurovirology and Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories, where he oversaw the development of new products for the treatment and prevention of diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and hepatitis B. At the age of 96 Koprowski continues to work as a researcher at Jefferson. His achievements represent the “particular role of Philadelphia scientists in the development of biomedical sciences” and his lifelong commitment to groundbreaking research in virology and cancer research.
Sources: “Hilary Koprowski,” Thomas Jefferson University, http://www.jefferson.edu/jmc/microbiology/vaccine_center/faculty/koprowski.cfm; “Hilary Koprowski,” Hilary Koprowski, http://www.koprowski.net/documents/home/html; Huntly Collins, “The Gulp Heard Round the World”,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 6, 2000; Marie McCullough, “Oral-polio-vaccine luminary, 93, suing Jefferson for discrimination,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2010; McCullough, “Feisty Hearing on 93-year-old researcher’s suit,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 28, 2010;. The following are collected in Philadelphia Award Records, Series 2 (Recipients and Nominees), Box 7, folder 18: announcement of award, support letters, newspaper clippings, article, biography. Photo: Courtesy ofTemple University Urban Archives. Comment: Koprowski never stopped studying music. He played the piano, especially the works of Chopin, and in the evenings composed music, often intended as an accompaniment to poetry. During his acceptance speech for the Philadelphia Award, Koprowski stated that “the intense musical life of Philadelphia is particularly appealing to [him] as a musician. From the beloved Philadelphia Orchestra to the ‘Unstrung Heroes’ of the Concerto Soloists, it pulsates with unusual vigor.” He went on to state that he “[continues] to enjoy Philadelphia as [his] real abode for now and forever.”