Posted on Wed, Aug. 11, 2010
Oral-polio-vaccine luminary, 93, suing Jefferson for discrimination
By Marie McCullough
Inquirer Staff Writer
In a dispute with an air of déjà vu, Hilary Koprowski - the brilliant and feisty 93-year-old researcher who developed the first oral polio vaccine - is suing Thomas Jefferson University, where he moved in 1992 after being ousted as director of the Wistar Institute.
In legal papers filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, Koprowski claims Jefferson has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to let him retain - at his own expense - five employees who help him deal with age-related infirmities that "affect his ability to sit, stand, walk, and hear."
He also alleges that the university has plans to take his offices and lab equipment.
The university's only comment came in two terse e-mails sent by public relations director Jackie Kozloski: "Thomas Jefferson University has the utmost respect for Dr. Koprowski," she wrote. "It's unfortunate an issue concerning office space was brought to federal court. . . . Thomas Jefferson University denies all of the allegations in his complaint."
Koprowski was not available for comment because he is recovering at his Wynnewood home from a back injury suffered during a fall last week, said his lawyer, Alan B. Epstein.
Koprowski's long career has been filled with towering achievements, honors - and controversies.
After he and his wife, Irena, fled their native Poland in the wake of the Nazi invasion, he went on to create the precursor to the polio vaccine licensed by Albert Sabin.
Yet he spent years defending his polio research after an erroneous 1999 book speculated that clinical trials in the Congo inadvertently triggered the AIDS pandemic. Conclusive vindication came in 2001 from tests on the remaining vials of the vaccine.
Koprowski also pioneered vaccines against German measles and rabies, and lab-made antibodies that fight cancer. In recent years, he has focused on genetically engineering plants to carry vaccines.
He is credited with transforming Wistar during his 34-year tenure from a second-rate center on the University of Pennsylvania campus to a renowned biomedical research institute.
Yet his departure was rancorous. Koprowski, then 75, maintained he was removed by Wistar's board because of age discrimination and personal animosity. He filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in federal court.
Wistar, which was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, countersued, accusing Koprowski of actions that hurt the institute's reputation and financial stability.
Money is also an issue at Jefferson.
In June, Jefferson shut down Koprowski's research organization, the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories Inc., because he was not able to get enough grant money to fund it, according to Epstein. Three "world-class scientists" in Koprowski's lab had to leave, the lawyer added.
Also in June, Jefferson and Koprowski signed a one-year contract renewing his faculty and research appointment with a full salary of $134,998, according to his lawsuit.
Koprowski asked that five people - his driver, a technician, a grants administrator, an office manager, an administrative assistant - remain on the payroll "at his sole expense" because of his age-related disabilities. His suit says he received no response.
On Aug. 3, Koprowski filed complaints against Jefferson with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission - just as he had done against Wistar.
On Aug. 5, Koprowski "learned" indirectly that the university was going to "displace" him from his office and "confiscate" lab equipment, according to his lawsuit.
The next day, Epstein filed the federal suit. Among other things, it asks the court to order Jefferson not to interfere with or restrict Koprowski and his five staff members.
Now, Epstein said, the parties have a sort of truce until next week, when the judge assigned to hear the case will be in court.
In the wider scientific world, colleagues rue that prospect.
"He's one of the immortals in vaccine technology," said Peter Hotez, president of Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, which in 2007 awarded Koprowski its Sabin Gold Medal.
"Having said that, even someone of his enormous stature would have a hard time maintaining grants in this highly competitive environment. We wish him the very best and hope this comes to an equitable resolution."
This site is dedicated to his distinguished career and lifelong work in the field of microbiology.http://www.koprowski.net/documents/home.html
En una disputa con un aire de déjà vu, Hilary Koprowski - el investigador brillante de 93 años de edad quien desarrolló la primera vacuna oral contra la poliomielitis - está demandando a la Universidad Thomas Jefferson, donde se trasladó en 1992 después de ser destituido como director de la cepa Wistar Instituto. En documentos legales presentados el viernes en una corte federal en Filadelfia, Koprowski reclama Jefferson ha violado la Ley de Estadounidenses con Discapacidades, al negarse a dejar que conservan - por su propia cuenta - cinco empleados que le ayudan a hacer frente a enfermedades relacionadas con la edad que "afectan su capacidad para sentarse, pararse, caminar y escuchar. " También afirma que la universidad tiene planes de tomar sus oficinas y equipo de laboratorio. El único comentario de la universidad llegó en dos e-mails enviados por el director de relaciones públicas Kozloski Jackie: "Thomas Jefferson University tiene el máximo respeto por el doctor Koprowski," escribió.