Vampires, werewolves and the treatment of age-related macular degeneration

Understanding vampire-like characters as a consequence of porphyrian genetic disease was just one of the phenomenal insights revealed during the third annual Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Chemistry. David Dolphin presented “From the Bench to the Bedside to the Bank: How to Make Money from Vampires!” at the Seymour Schulich Building at York’s Keele campus on Oct. 17. The 2006 lecture was presented jointly by the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the Schulich School of Business.

Left: David Dolphin

The lecture was opened by Eileen Mercier (MBA ’77), wife of the late Ernest C. Mercier for whom the lecture is named. In her remarks Ms. Mercier said this “convergence of science and business interests” reflects a passionate excitement of the many possibilities and opportunities for the future.  Dolphin, chief executive officer of the British Columbia Innovation Council and a University of British Columbia chemistry professor,addressed the crowd of scientists, administrators, alumni, friends, industry contacts and students of both science and business.

Dolphin explained that the porphyrias are a class of human genetic diseases which result in several clinical manifestations, including characteristics associated with werewolves and vampires. He said this results from the interaction of porphyrin, oxygen and light and leads to the subsequent modification and destruction of tissue. Amazingly, these same three components can be used, in a controlled manner, to modify human tissue and to treat human diseases. Dolphin reviewed the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and enlightened the group on the innovative medical modality of photodynamic therapy.

He was responsible for the establishment of one of Canada’s most renowned university spin-off companies, QLT Inc., and as vice-president of technology development at QLT Inc., Dolphin was instrumental in the discovery, development and commercialization of Visudyne™.  Since 2000, Visudyne™ has saved the vision of hundreds of thousands of people afflicted with “wet” age-related macular degeneration. Visudyne™ is the most successful ophthalmic product ever registered and has been approved in more than 70 countries. More than 500,000 patients have been treated with the drug. Dolphin discussed the translation of this exciting research from the University of British Columbia, where he is a chemistry professor and researcher, to QLT, as well as the commercial development of the drug Visudyne™.

Dolphin holds more than 160 patents (30 of them issued in the US) and has been internationally recognized for his industrial research. In 2002, he and Julia Levy were awarded the Prix Galien for his work developing Visudyne™. The Prix Galien is considered the international pharmaceutical industry’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize and the highest accolade for pharmaceutical research.

The lecture, the third in a continuing series, celebrates the memory of Ernest Mercier, husband of Eileen Mercier, member of the Board of Governors of York University.  Mercier established the lecture series in her late husband’s name to highlight the bridges between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds.

Right: Eileen 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.”

For more information on the Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Chemistry, click here.

This story was submitted to YFile by Darlee Gerrard, manager of communications, alumni and special projects, York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.