Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

March 20, 2006 10:23 ET

NSERC: UBC Professor and Lead Creator of Key Ophthalmic Drug Wins Top Canadian Science Prize

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - March 20, 2006) -

- NSERC awards Dr. David Dolphin $1 million in research funding
- NSERC Herzberg Medal to be awarded tonight in Ottawa

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. Visudyne has been used to treat more than 500,000 people since 2000.

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 will receive the medal honouring the late Canadian Nobel laureate Gerhard Herzberg in a ceremony here tonight.

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 Inc., is now a global biopharmaceutical company specializing in treatments for eye diseases as well as dermatological and urological conditions.

"I congratulate Dr. Dolphin on winning this very prestigious award and applaud him for his outstanding contribution to Canadian science," said Industry Minister Maxime Bernier. "I am also pleased to note Dr. Dolphin's strong commitment to the transfer of research knowledge to commercial applications that address the needs of the wider community."

"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 NSERC President Dr. Suzanne Fortier. "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.

The award selection process involved both international peer review of the nominees and adjudication by a distinguished NSERC jury. This year's panel was chaired by Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a member of NSERC's Council. She is a professor and the Director of the Stable Isotope Laboratory at the University of Toronto.

NSERC is a federal agency whose role is to make investments in people, discovery and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 22,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 10,000 university professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging more than 600 Canadian companies to participate and invest in university research projects.

Media may arrange interviews with Dr. Dolphin by contacting the NSERC Public Affairs team.

For photos and more background information on all NSERC awards and this year's winners, visit

Contact Information

  • NSERC Public Affairs
    Michael Dwyer
    (613) 992-9001
    (613) 794-9170 (Cell)
    Office of Maxime Bernier
    Minister of Industry
    Isabelle Fontaine
    (613) 995-9001