Changing darkness into light: treating macular degeneration

A mere five years ago, the diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration was forewarning of a gradual descent into total darkness. University of British Columbia chemistry Professor David Dolphin changed that. He’s the lead creator of Visudyne, the world’s most widely used ophthalmic drug, which, since 2000, has saved the vision of approximately 300,000 people.

Left: David Dolphin

Dolphin, leading research groups at UBC (where he holds the NSERC – QLT Inc. Industrial Research Chair in Photodynamic Technologies) and Quadra Logic Technologies (QLT) Inc., worked to turn a porphyrin molecule into the light-activated tactical killer that would become known as Visudyne.

Dolphin will present the third Annual Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Chemistry on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 7:30pm in the Robert McEwen Auditorium, Seymour Schulich Building, on the Keele campus. In his lecture titled, “From the Bench to the Bedside to the Bank: How to Make Money from Vampires”, Dolphin will review the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and describe the new medical modality of photodynamic therapy. He will discuss the translation of this exciting research from UBC to QLT, as well as the commercial development of Visudyne, which has now been approved in over 70 countries. In excess of $2 billion worth of this drug has already been sold. The transition from research to availability of this new treatment suggests a convergence of scientific, social and business interests.

The lecture celebrates the memory of Ernest C. Mercier, who was the executive vice-president of Toronto Dominion Bank when he retired in 1993. Mercier is the late husband of Eileen Mercier, a York graduate (MBA ‘77) who established the lecture series in her husband’s name. Eileen Mercier is a member of the Board of Governors of York University.

Left: Ernest Mercier

“Ernest believed that the benefits of discipline and analytical thinking, which his engineering education provided, were basic to understanding the cause-and-effect laws of business. That and a love of working with people were important reasons that he did well,” says Eileen Mercier. “This lectureship will hopefully inspire others to use their education in similarly unique ways.”

More about Eileen Mercier

Eileen Mercier was appointed to the Board of Governors in 1996 and is currently the vice-chair of the Board, Chair of the Land Use Committee, and serves as a member of the Executive and the Finance and Staff Resources Committees. She is Chair of the Investment Committee of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board, sits on the board of the University Health Network and is a Fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers. Mercier is a former senior vice-president and chief financial officer of Abitibi-Price and former president of Finvoy Management Limited.

Right: Eileen Mercier

To inspire and empower future generations of chemistry students at York with a sense of the possible, Mercier established the lecture series in her late husband’s name. Bridging the worlds of business and commerce with the intensive research world of chemistry, the annual lecture series presents an entrepreneur and renowned scientist who has used his or her own science education as a springboard to other enterprises.

The Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Chemistry is sponsored by York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, the Schulich School of Business and MDS Sciex. For more information about the lecture, contact Darlee Gerrard, manager, communications, alumni & special projects, Faculty of Science & Engineering at ext. 22814 or e-mail