Between 1874 and 1878 he studied medicine at the Akademie für das militärärztliche Bildungswesen, Berlin. He was mainly a military doctor and then became Professor of Hygienics within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Marburg (against the initial strenuous opposition of the faculty council), a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
Behring was the discoverer of diphtheria antitoxin and attained a great reputation by that means and by his contributions to the study of immunity. He won the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1901 for developing a serum therapy against diphtheria (this was worked on with Emile Roux) and tetanus. The former had been a scourge of the population, especially children, whereas the other was a leading cause of death in wars, killing the wounded. At the International Tuberculosis Congress in 1905 he announced that he had discovered "a substance proceeding from the virus of tuberculosis." This substance, which he designated "T C", plays the important part in the immunizing action of Professor Behring's "bovivaccine", which prevents bovine tuberculosis.
Behring died at Marburg, Hessen-Nassau, on March 31, 1917. His name survives in Dade Behring, the world's largest company dedicated solely to clinical diagnostics, in CSL Behring a manufacturer of plasma-derived biotherapies, in Behringwerke AG in Marburg, in Novartis Behring and in the Emil von Behring Prize of the University of Marburg, the highest endowed medicine award in Germany.