updated 4/11/2005 8:50:22 PM ET 2005-04-12T00:50:22

Maurice Hilleman, a pioneer in vaccine research who helped develop vaccines for mumps, measles, chicken pox and other childhood scourges, died Monday of cancer. He was 85.

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Hilleman died at a hospital in Philadelphia. He was a longtime resident of that area.

Hilleman worked for Merck & Co. Inc., based in Whitehouse Station, for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1984 as senior vice president of Merck Research Labs in West Point, Pa., the pharmaceutical giant said.

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 and hepatitis A and B. He began work on the mumps vaccine after his daughter 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 statement. "His name will be joined forever with people like Pasteur and Koch in the story of man's strivings against pathogens."

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.

"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.

Hilleman was a longtime adviser to the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Vaccine Program and the National Institutes of Health's Office of AIDS Research Program Evaluation. He was a member of several prestigious scientific groups, including the U.S. National Academy of Science, and was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Reagan in July 1988.

Hilleman held doctoral degrees from Montana State University and the University of Chicago.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.

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