Bozeman – Tens of millions of children worldwide would have died or been permanently disabled if not for the pioneering work of Miles City native and Montana State University alumnus, Maurice Hilleman, according Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Measles killed millions before we had vaccines. Mumps was the most common cause of acquired deafness before vaccines. We have forgotten how devastating these diseases were and forgotten that one man fundamentally altered human health by his work,” said Offit, who was on MSU’s campus Friday as the keynote speaker of the Maurice Hilleman Vaccine Symposium running Friday and Saturday, April 22-23.
Born on a small farm outside Miles City in 1919, Hilleman grew up poor, selling eggs from chickens he raised to make ends meet. As a young man he aspired to be a sales clerk in J.C. Penny’s until his brother convinced him to apply for a scholarship to then-named Montana State College in Bozeman. Hilleman did and was admitted with a scholarship.
Hilleman graduated at the top of his class from Montana State with twin degrees in chemistry and microbiology in 1941. After earning a doctorate at the University of Chicago and eventually making his long term career at Merck pharmaceuticals, Hilleman would end up developing more than 40 important vaccines for human and animal health. Of the 14 vaccines commonly given to children, Hilleman developed nine. Among them are vaccines for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, and pneumonia.
When he passed away in 2005, scientists quoted in his New York Times obituary credited him with saving more lives than any other person in the 20th Century. Despite this, Hilleman’s contributions to global human health are virtually unknown. Offit has made it a personal mission to change that. In addition to being an accomplished physician and researcher, he is the author of the definitive biography of Hilleman, “Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases,” and an as-yet-unreleased documentary, “Hilleman: The Perilous Quest to Save the World's Children.”
“Hilleman’s legacy has always been in the shadows and that hasn’t been fair,” Offit said. “One of the reasons I wrote the book and worked on the documentary is so his story wouldn’t die.”
Offit said Montanans have a great deal to be proud of in Hilleman.
“Montanans should see Maurice Hilleman as one of them,” Offit said. “He was hardworking, honest to a fault, loyal, forthright and brave. He told it like it was. He was a product of Montana.”
Hilleman had a unique combination of resources, intelligence and guts, Offit said. In 1963, when his daughter Jeryl Lynn came down with mumps, Hilleman swabbed the inside of her cheek and headed off to the lab to culture the virus. Just four years later, he had developed the first mumps vaccine. Even today, mumps vaccines are still made from that same strain and bear Jeryl Lynn’s name.
“He worked incredibly hard,” Offit said.
Modern vaccine development occurs at a much slower pace today than in Hilleman’s time due to greater regulation and shrinking corporate interest, Offit said.
“Many of the diseases we are working on today are also very challenging – HIV, tuberculosis, malaria,” Offit said. “These are very complex problems. It’s too bad Maurice isn’t around to tackle them. He’d have loved the challenge and he would have been good at it.”
The public can watch the Saturday, April 23 session of the Maurice Hilleman Vaccine Symposium live on the web by visiting www.montana.edu or by attending in Gaines Hall 101. The Saturday session schedule is as follows:
- 8 a.m., Introduction, Dr. Mark Jutila, head of the MSU Department of Microbiology and Immunology
- 8:15 a.m., “Partnership and Innovation in Vaccine Development and Supply for Global Health,” Dr. Katey Owen, deputy director, Vaccines Development CMC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- 9 a.m. “Vaccines at Merck – The Legend of Maurice Hilleman Continues," Dr. Barbara Kuter, executive director of pediatric medical affairs, Merck & Co., Inc.
- 9:45 a.m. Break
- 10:15 a.m., “Vaccine Approaches for Emerging Viruses,” Dr. Heinrich Feldmann, chief, Laboratory of Virology; and chief, Disease Modeling and Transmission Section, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- 11 a.m., “MSU Research Highlights,” Dr. Blake Wiedenheft, assistant professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Montana State University
- 12 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lunch break
- 1:30 p.m., “Building a better mouse trap: How classical immunology can promote development of effective vaccines for Francisella tularensis,” Dr. Catharine Bosio, chief, Immunity to Pulmonary Pathogens Section, Laboratory of Bacteriology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- 2:15 p.m. “Mucosal Vaccination Strategies for Protection to Brucellosis,” Dr. David Pascual, professor, University of Florida Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathology
- 3 p.m., Dr. Agnieszka Rynda-Apple, assistant research professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Montana State University
Read More: www.montana.edu/hillemanscholars
- MSU grad Maurice Hilleman to be inducted into Gallery of Outstanding Montanans at Capitol - March 4, 2015
- MSU hosts leading thinkers in vaccine development in honor of legendary alumnus Maurice Hilleman - April 23, 2016
- MSU grad's vaccines save millions - October 31, 2011
- The man who saved millions - October 12, 2012
- Film crew visits MSU for documentary on grad who saved lives of millions - June 13, 2014