TRENTON, N.J. – Each time an American mother takes her child to the doctor’s office for a checkup, she likely leaves with the fruits of Maurice Hilleman’s career – vaccines that have helped put an end to childhood miseries.
Hilleman, a microbiologist who helped save millions of young lives by developing vaccines for mumps, measles, chickenpox and other maladies, died Monday at Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 85.
Over his career, the Miles City, Mont., native led or began the development of vaccines against diseases that once killed or hospitalized millions, including measles, German measles, meningitis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and hepatitis A and B. He began work on the mumps vaccine after his daughter, Jeryl Lynn, developed the illness at age 5 in 1963.
“Maurice Hilleman will be historically remembered as the vaccinologist of the 20th century,” Dr. Robert C. Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, said in a prepared statement. “His name will be joined forever with people like Pasteur and Koch in the story of man’s strivings against pathogens.”
Hilleman worked for Whitehouse Station-based Merck & Co. Inc. for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1984 as senior vice president of Merck Research Labs in West Point, Pa., the pharmaceutical company said.
Hilleman joined Merck in 1957 as head of its new virus and cell biology research department, after a decade as chief of respiratory diseases at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
He is credited with developing more vaccines than any person. He also was a co-discoverer of the adenoviruses, and discovered changes in the flu virus known as “drift.” By monitoring these changes, public health agencies now track new flu viruses and create vaccines to prevent them.
“His work has saved literally millions of lives and has protected many millions more from disease,” said Dr. Adel F. Mahmoud, president of Merck Vaccines. “Dr. Maurice Hilleman is one of the true scientific leaders of our time.”
He is survived by his wife, Lorraine, daughters Kirsten of New York City and Jeryl Lynn of Palo Alto, Calif., and five grandchildren.