Maurice Hilleman, The Man Who Saved Most Lives
How many people today would know the man behind childhood immunization? Hardly anyone. But with more than 40 vaccines to his credit, he saves millions of lives each year.
Hilleman has produced a mind-blogging number of fundamental breakthroughs. He invented more than 40 vaccines, including those that prevent measles, mumps, rubella, Haemophilus influenze type b, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and chickenpox. Of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended in current vaccine schedules, he developed eight. According to one estimate, his vaccines save over 8 million lives a year. What is more, Hilleman is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.
After receiving his doctoral degree in microbiology in 1941, Hilleman joined E.R. Squibb & Sons (now Bristol-Myers Squibb) in 1944, where he developed a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis, a disease that threatened American troops in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. Later as chief of the Department of Respiratory Diseases at Army Medical Center (now the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research) he developed a vaccine for influenza. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal from the American military for his work.
Hilleman joined Merck & Co as head of its new virus and cell biology research department in West Point, Pennsylvania, where he developed most of the forty experimental and licensed animal and human vaccines working both at the laboratory bench as well as providing scientific leadership.
Although Hilleman retired as senior vice president of the Merck Research Labs in 1984, when he was 65, he continued to direct the research efforts in immunology at the newly created Merck Institute of Virology for the next twenty years. He was Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia at the time of his death on April 11, 2005, at the age of 85.
Adel Mahmoud, president of the Merck Vaccine Division, the company which produced seven vaccines in 2005, all of which were invented by Maurice Hilleman had this to say about Hilleman, “ This guy, whatever he touched, he developed a vaccine out of it. We owe him an incredible, incredible debt.”
All of us do.