Photo of Maya Koster

Maya Koster

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine

For their work in the discovery, development and commercialization of Prevnar, the first-ever vaccine to prevent the deadly and disabling consequences of Streptococcus pneumoniae infections in children.

Pneumococcal diseases used to claim the lives of numerous children across the globe. Thanks to the work of chemist Maya Koster children now have a vaccine to fight those diseases.

Koster was on the team that developed Prevnar, a vaccine that attacks Streptococcus bacteria in children. Before Prevnar was approved for sale in 2000, pneumococcal diseases claimed the lives of up to 1 million children each year worldwide.

Prevnar’s impact was immediate. Cases of childhood pneumonia plummeted. One study in 2003 showed infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria had been slashed by nearly 70 percent in immunized children.

Prevnar, the University of Rochester’s Rochester Review said in a 2007 story, is “credited with changing the landscape of pediatric medicine.’’

“We knew that it would work,” Koster said. “But we didn’t know that it would be as successful as a product as it has turned out to be.”

Koster, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in the 1970s, joined Praxis Biologics, the company that developed Prevnar, in 1986. In 2003, Koster and the other Prevnar developers were honored by the American Chemical Society, which named them “Heroes of Chemistry.’’

By Robert Warren