Lab Canada

Lead creator of key ophthalmic drug wins Herzberg gold medal

Ottawa, ON – The creator of Visudyne, one of the world’s most successful ophthalmic products, is the winner of the 2005 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

Dr David Dolphin, University Killam research professor in the department of chemistry at the University of British Columbia and one of the world’s foremost experts in bioorganic and bioinorganic chemistry and in porphyrins received the medal honouring the late Canadian Nobel laureate Gerhard Herzberg in a ceremony last night.

The award, which is considered Canada’s top science prize, comes with a guarantee of $1 million in research funding over the next five years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Dr Dolphin is one of the founders of modern porphyrin chemistry. During the past 40 years he has published more than 400 scientific papers and has authored or edited 18 books. These books range from an encyclopaedic two-volume set on Vitamin B-12 to the seven-volume The Porphyrins.

Porphyrins – organic molecules such as chlorophyll that interact with light – are used in CDs and DVDs, as well as in the healing chemicals used for light-based medicine, or photodynamic therapy. In the early 1980s, Dr Dolphin teamed up with then UBC microbiologist Dr Julia Levy to create Visudyne, a light-activated porphyrin molecule used to treat age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. The company they founded, QLT, is now a global biopharmaceutical company specializing in treatments for eye diseases as well as dermatological and urological conditions.

“Dr Dolphin is one of the best organic chemists in the world and justifiably famous as a leader in porphyrin chemistry – from his early work in elucidating the mechanisms of photosynthesis, on which almost all life depends, to his more recent work in synthesizing complex porphyrin-based medicines,” observed Dr Suzanne Fortier, NSERC president. “His lab is also a major training ground for organic and synthetic chemistry students from around the world.”

Dr Dolphin holds the NSERC-QLT Industrial Research Chair on Photodynamic Technologies.

The other finalists for the 2005 NSERC Herzberg Medal were Dr. Richard Bond and Dr. Stephen Cook, both of the University of Toronto. Dr Cook will receive the NSERC Award of Excellence. Dr Bond received the Award of Excellence in 2003. Both will receive a $50,000 research grant.