Skip to comments.Maurice Hilleman, Master in Creating Vaccines, Dies at 85
Posted on 04/12/2005 7:15:56 PM PDT by neverdem
Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman, a microbiologist who developed vaccines for mumps, measles, chickenpox, pneumonia, meningitis and other diseases, saving tens of millions of lives, died yesterday at a hospital in Philadelphia. He was 85.
The cause was cancer, said a son-in-law, Greg Slamowitz.
Raised on a farm in Montana, Dr. Hilleman credited much of his success to his boyhood work with chickens, whose eggs form the foundation of so many vaccines.
Much of modern preventive medicine is based on Dr. Hilleman's work, though he never received the public recognition of Salk, Sabin or Pasteur. He is credited with having developed more human and animal vaccines than any other scientist, helping to extend human life expectancy and improving the economies of many countries.
Dr. Hilleman probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century, said two medical leaders, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
"The scientific quality and quantity of what he did was amazing," Dr. Fauci said. "Just one of his accomplishments would be enough to have made for a great scientific career. One can say without hyperbole that Maurice changed the world with his extraordinary contributions in so many disciplines: virology, epidemiology, immunology, cancer research and vaccinology."
Dr. Hilleman developed 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (which brings on a variety of symptoms, including inflammation of the lining of the brain and deafness). He also developed the first generation of a vaccine against rubella or German measles. The vaccines have virtually vanquished many of the once common childhood diseases in developed countries.
Dr. Hilleman overcame immunological obstacles to combine vaccines so that one shot could protect against several diseases, like the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.
He developed about 40 experimental and licensed animal and human vaccines, mostly with his team from Merck of Whitehouse Station, N.J. His role in their development included lab work as well as scientific and administrative leadership. His colleagues said he routinely credited others for their roles in advances.
Vaccine development is complex, requiring an artistry to safely produce large amounts of weakened live or dead micro-organisms. "Maurice was that artist: no one had the green thumb of mass production that he had," Dr. Offit said.
The hepatitis B vaccine, licensed in 1981, is credited as the first to prevent a human cancer: a liver cancer, known as a hepatoma, that can develop as a complication of infection from the hepatitis B virus.
One of Dr. Hilleman's goals was to develop the first licensed vaccine against any viral cancer. He achieved it in the early 1970's, developing a vaccine to prevent Marek's disease, a lymphoma cancer of chickens caused by a member of the herpes virus family. Preventing the disease helped revolutionize the economics of the poultry industry.
Dr. Hilleman's vaccines have also prevented deafness, blindness and other permanent disabilities among millions of people, a point made in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor.
Dr. Hilleman also discovered several viruses and made fundamental discoveries about the way the influenza virus mutates.
Because scientific knowledge about viruses was so limited when he began his career, Dr. Hilleman said that trial and error, sound judgment and luck drove much of his research.
Luck played a major role in the discovery of adenoviruses. Dr. Hilleman flew a team to Missouri to collect specimens from troops suffering from influenza. But by the time his team arrived, influenza had died out. Dr. Hilleman, fearing that he would be fired for an expensive useless exercise, seized on his observation of the occurrence of a fresh outbreak of a different disease. His team discovered three new types of adenoviruses among the troops.
Dr. Hilleman was a discoverer or co-discoverer of a number of other viruses, including hepatitis A; rhinoviruses; and SV40, a monkey virus that causes cancer and that was included in the earliest human polio vaccines.
In the early 1950's, he made a discovery that helps prevent influenza. He detected a pattern of genetic changes that the influenza virus undergoes as it mutates. The phenomenon is known as drift (minor changes) and shift (major changes). Vaccine manufacturers take account of drift in choosing the strains of influenza virus included in the vaccines that are freshly made each influenza season.
Shifts can herald a large outbreak or pandemic of influenza, and Dr. Hilleman was the first to detect the shift that caused the 1957 Asian influenza pandemic. He read an article in The New York Times on April 17, 1957, about influenza among infants in Hong Kong - cases that had escaped detection from the worldwide influenza surveillance systems.
Dr. Hilleman, who directed the central laboratory for worldwide military influenza surveillance, was sure that the cases represented the advent of an influenza pandemic. So he immediately sent for specimens from Hong Kong and helped isolate a new strain of influenza virus.
Dr. Hilleman also demanded that breeders keep roosters that would otherwise have been slaughtered so they could fertilize enough eggs to prepare 40 million doses of influenza to protect Americans against the 1957 influenza strain.
Dr. Hilleman stood 6-foot-1, wore reading glasses that rested on the tip of his nose and described himself as a renegade. He often participated in scientific meetings, where he could be irascible while amusing his colleagues with profane asides.
At one of many meetings with this physician-reporter, a Thanksgiving Day dinner during a conference at the World Health Organization in Geneva in the 1980's, Dr. Hilleman said he was driven by a goal to get rid of disease and by a belief that scientists had to serve society.
At Merck, he played a major role in the hierarchy and had direct control over his research.
Maurice Ralph Hilleman was born on Aug. 30, 1919, in Miles City, Mont. His mother and twin sister died during his birth.
In 1937, he went to work in the local J. C. Penney's store where he helped cowpokes, as he described his customers, pick out chenille bathrobes for their girlfriends, and he was well on the way to a career in retailing until his oldest brother suggested that he go to college.
After graduating from Montana State University in 1941, he received his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Chicago and then joined E. R. Squibb & Sons. There, he developed a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis to protect American troops in the World War II Pacific offensive.
In 1948, he moved to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and stayed until 1957, when Vannevar Bush, then chairman of Merck and a former director of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development in World War II, persuaded him to direct a virus research program for the drug company.
After retiring as senior vice president for Merck research laboratories in 1984, Dr. Hilleman continued to work on vaccines, saying they were needed for at least 20 diseases, including AIDS.
Dr. Hilleman is survived by his wife, Lorraine, a retired nurse; two daughters, Jeryl Lynn of Palo Alto, Calif., and Kirsten J. of New York City; two brothers, Victor, of Fontana, Calif., and Norman, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; and five grandchildren.
His daughter Jeryl Lynn is at least in part responsible for the mumps vaccine. In 1963, when her salivary glands started to swell with the disease, Dr. Hilleman swabbed her throat and went on to isolate the virus. He then weakened it and within four years had produced the now-standard mumps vaccine. The weakened strain bears her name.
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One of the true greats of humanity. And even though most people may not know his name, countless owe their lives, and/or health, to his many discoveries. Any ONE of his accomplishments would be sufficient to make a person a medical great, but for him to have accomplished ALL that he did truly makes him one of a kind.
Wonder how many movies Hollywood is going to make on this guy. Oh that`s right, zero. He wasn`t a serial killer, a child molester, or a tyrant.
You must see as many movies a year as we do.....maybe 2?
I see tons of movies. When is the last time they made a movie about a scientist like Hilleman or someone who has saved people? The only one I can think of in the past ten years is Schindlers list. Other than that, we get a movie celebrated with Oscars about a billionaire brat who spent monmmy and daddys money who flew planes around and did drugs, the year before that we get the life of serial killer Aileen Wournos celebrated with Oscars.