From the discovery of insulin and radiation therapy, to the development of infant formula and vaccines, Canadian’s have always been at the forefront medical innovation. Celebrate with us as we showcase just a few of Canada’s greatest achievements.



Halting cancer growth by targeting cancer stem cells

Dr. John Dick and researchers at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto use an experimental small-molecule inhibitor to successfully block the BMI-1 pathway, the gene and protein that regulates colon cancer stem cells. By stopping the cancer stem cells from self-renewing, proliferating and differentiating into a malignant tumor, the growth of the cancer is effectively halted. This approach may also have clinical applications for the treatment of other types of cancers as well.

University Health Network Toronto


Discovery of new micro-tissue model

The first-ever living, three-dimensional human arrhythmic heart tissue is bioengineered by a team of stem cell researchers at the University of Toronto. An exciting benefit of this research is that there is now a formula to engineer the precise type and ratio of cardiac cell types to produce functional human heart micro-tissues that can be used to measure normal and diseased human heart responses to drugs.

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First HIV prevention vaccine

A preventive vaccine for HIV is developed by Dr. Chil-Yong Kang and his research team at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. This vaccine is currently (2014) in Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mayne, Western University


Discovery of new anti-malaria agent

Malaria infects over 200 million people each year and kills an estimated 660,000 people. Drug and insecticide- resistance makes eliminating the disease challenging. Research by Dr. Lakshmi Kotra, at the University Health Network in Toronto, may lead to a solution. Dr. Kotra discovers a synthetic compound (KP-15) inhibits a key enzyme, called OCDase, which the malaria parasite needs to live and reproduce.

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Reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer's Scyllo-Inositol

Researchers from the University of Toronto find that symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in mice can be reversed with the plant sugar alcohol called scyllo-inositol. Scyllo-inositol (drug candidate ELND005) is presently in Phase II clinical trials for the reduction of aggression and agitation associated with Alzheimer's Disease and mood changes in Bipolar Disorder.

Image courtesy of the National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health


World's first use of Palladium 'Seeds'

'Seeds' of low-dose radioactive palladium are used to treat breast cancer patients on an outpatient basis at Sunnybrook Hospital and the Women's Research Institute in Toronto. This injected, targeted therapy helps reduce radiation side effects and improves the quality of life for breast cancer patients.

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First infant meningitis vaccine

National Research Council immunologist Dr. Harry Jennings develops a highly effective synthetic vaccine, NeisVac-C, which protects people of all ages against meningococcal meningitis, a disease carried by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The vaccine is effective for babies as young as 2 months.



First vaccine to prevent Alzheimer's in mice

Taking steps towards improving our understanding of dementia, Dr. Peter St. George-Hyslop, at the University of Toronto, develops a vaccine that prevents Alzheimer's disease in mice.

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Nanocrystalline silver wound dressings

The world's first commercial therapeutic application of nanotechnology is invented by Dr. Robert Burrell at the University of Alberta. Marketed as, these wound dressings release nanocrystalline silver crystals which help to prevent infections and promote wound healing. Acticoat™ is now used in over 40 countries around the world.

Smith & Nephew


New treatment method for retinoblastoma

Dr. Brenda Gallie, working at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, identifies why retinoblastoma (RB) tumors (a rare childhood cancer of the retina) are resistant to many drugs. Dr. Gallie and her collaborator Dr. Helen Chan have since developed a chemotherapy modification which has resulted in the best-yet success to save the eyes of children with retinoblastoma.

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Co-Discovery of Vertporfin for age related macular degeneration

Canadian biotechnology company Quadra Logic Technologies (now QLT Inc.), co-founded by Julia Levy, develops and commercializes the photodynamic (light-sensitive) drug Visudyne™. This breakthrough drug is now used worldwide to treat age-related macular degeneration as well as various forms of cancer.

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Identification of early-onset Alzheimer's genes

Dr. Peter St George-Hyslop and a team of researchers at the University of Toronto discover and clone two genes, called presenilins. Mutations in these genes are responsible for making Amyloid beta protein that accumuates in the brain and causes familial early-onset Alzheimer's disease. This discovery uncovers a target for developing potential new drugs and represents a key step in unravelling the mystery of Alzheimer's disease.

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Development of site-directed Mutagenesis

Dr. Michael Smith, from the University of British Columbia, wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his innovative new DNA reprogramming method called site-directed mutagenesis. This method revolutionizes genetic engineering by creating a simpler and easier way to introduce site-specific mutations into genes. In pharmaceutical development this technique can be used to bioengineer proteins that have specific properties or are tailored for a specific application.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Identification of Apolipoprotein E4 as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease

Dr. Judes Poirier from McGill University in Montreal discovers the Apolipoprotein E4 allele (apoE4), a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease. The E4 allele has been associated with lower levels of apoE4 in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's patients. Poirier's pioneering work leads the way to successfully identifying several potent apoE inducers which are now in pre-clinical development.

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Clinical trials of 3TC for hepatitis B

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, at the University of Alberta, performs key clinical trials using a Pekin duck as a model that demonstrates the antiviral activity of 3TC (Lamivudine) against the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). This research leads to the first oral antiviral for HBV, which goes on to be used worldwide.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Cystic Fibrosis gene identified

Using positional cloning, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui and a team of scientists from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto discover the gene and molecular defect responsible for cystic fibrosis. This discovery is considered to be the most significant breakthrough in human genetics in 50 years!

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


3TC Joins the Fight Against Hep B and HIV

Dr. Bernard Belleau, working at McGill University in Montreal, develops the antiviral drug 3TC (Lamivudine). This drug becomes a critical component of Hepatitis B and HIV therapies and an important tool in the fight against HIV and AIDS. When used in combination with low doses of the antiviral AZT (zidovudine), 3TC is credited with saving over two million lives.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Discovery of SH2 Protein Domain

Dr. Anthony Pawson of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto discovers the SH2 protein domain involved in controlling cell behaviour. A new generation of targeted cancer drugs that only kill cancer cells, such as the tyrosine-kinase inhibitor Imatinib (sold in Canada as Gleevec™), have been developed based on Pawson's protein research.

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Discovery of T-Cell Receptor

Working at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, Dr. Tak Wah Mak discovers the structure of the T-Cell receptor, a key to the function of the human immune system, and nicknamed "the holy grail of the immune system." He has since led a team that has produced 20 patented molecules for use in drug development.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Discovery of Atrial Natriuretic Peptide

A team led by Dr. Adolfo de Bold at Queen's University in Kingston discovers the cardiac hormone atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), demonstrating that the heart is not only a pump but an endocrine organ. The team's landmark finding, an important discovery in cardiovascular medicine, has revolutionized our understanding of heart physiology and function, resulting in improved therapies and diagnostic tools for a number of heart conditions.

University of Ottawa Heart Institute


Development of Ganciclovir to treat or prevent cytomegalovirus (CMV)

While working at McGill University in Montreal, Dr. Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie develops Ganciclovir, an antiviral medication used to treat or prevent cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections. CMV is a type of virus that attacks people with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS or cancer as well as people who have had organ transplants.

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Identification of Aspirin for Stroke Prevention

Dr. Henry Barnett, from the University of Western Ontario, leads a Canadian study demonstrating that Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) can prevent strokes. Daily low-dose Aspirin therapy becomes widely adopted by the medical community as a preventative therapy for strokes and heart attacks.

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Discovery of hormone prolactin and its impact on fertility

Dr. Henry Friesen, at McGill University in Montreal, isolates and purifies the human pituitary hormone prolactin and defines its role as a major cause of infertility in women. Collaborating with researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, he is responsible for the introduction of new therapies, such as Bromocriptine, that have helped treat infertility in women worldwide.

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Identification of P-glyciprotein

P-glycoprotein, a cell surface glycoprotein, is identified as a major cause of drug resistance by Dr. Victor Ling at the University Health Network in Toronto. This finding leads to a better understanding of how drugs are moved in and out of cells.

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Discovery of Heparin for Blood Clots

Dr. Jack Hirsh, from McMaster University, observes the relationship between the in vitro anticoagulant activity of heparin and its ability to treat venous thrombosis (blood clots in veins). Heparin finds immediate and widespread clinical applications. Later in his career, Dr. Hirsh and his colleagues also establish the value of Aspirin in the prevention of strokes.

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First Clinical Trials of Cyclosporin for kidney transplants

Dr. Calvin Stiller, at University Hospital in London, Ontario, conducts one of the first clinical trials studying the effectiveness of the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporin for kidney transplants. Cyclosporin proves to be an effective anti-rejection drug for kidney transplants, as well as for heart, intestine, lung and bone marrow transplants.

The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Vitamin D added to Milk to reduce rickets

Quebec becomes the first province to add Vitamin D to milk, based on the research and advocacy of Montreal pediatrician and geneticist Dr. Charles Scriver, who discovered hereditary forms of rickets in children. With Vitamin D fortified milk, the incidence of rickets in infants dropped dramatically. Thanks to Dr. Scriver's studies, Vitamin D is added to all Canadian milk.

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Preventing Childhood Poisonings: First Child Safety Caps

Concerned with the growing number of children who were being accidentally poisoned as a result of access to medications in the home, Dr. Henri Breault, pediatrician and graduate of University of Western Ontario, develops the first child safety cap for medication bottles. This innovation dramatically reduces the number of childhood poisonings.

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Freeze-dried Vaccine Helps Eradicate Smallpox

Canadian freeze-dried smallpox vaccine developed by Connaught Laboratories serves as the international standard for the global smallpox eradication program. In May 1980 the World Health Organization declares that smallpox has been globally eradicated.

Courtesy of Sanofi-Pasteur Canada


Discovery of First Cancer Tumor Antigen

Dr. Phil Gold and Dr. Samuel O. Freedman of McGill University in Montreal co-discover the first identifiable cancer tumor antigen, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). This cancer marker discovery results in the development of the first blood test for the diagnosis of cancer in 1970, a test that is still the most frequently used test in oncology around the world.

American Association for Cancer Research Archives


Pharmacology + Genetics = Pharmacogenetics

Working at the University of Toronto, Dr. Werner Kalow brought pharmacology together with genetics to become a subspecialty, called pharmacogenetics. Kalow discovers genetic variations of plasma cholinesterase, which can cause potentially life-threatening reactions to anesthesia (pain-blocking drugs) in certain people and writes the first textbook on Pharmacogenetics.

Library and Archives Canada -


Discovery of hormone Calcitonin

Dr. Harold Copp, working at the University of British Columbia, discovers calcitonin, a hormone which regulates the level of calcium in the blood. Calcitonin is used to treat Paget's disease, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. One of the most important hormones for medical purposes, calcitonin is second only to insulin in terms of worldwide use.

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame


Development of Vinblastine for Chemotherapy

Dr. Charles Beer and Dr. Robert L. Noble, working at the University of Western Ontario in 1958, isolate the anti-cancer drug vinblastine from the leaves of the Madagascar periwinkle plant. The discovery of vinblastine represents a major milestone in cancer chemotherapy. Vinblastine becomes one of the most effective cancer drugs available, especially for the treatment of leukemia and testicular cancer.

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Canada Contributes to Polio Vaccine Success!

Canadian research and development was critical to development, evaluation and large-scale production of the Salk polio vaccine. This included the safe cultivation of the poliovirus, using Medium 199, and an incubation process called the "Toronto Method," that increased quantities of the poliovirus for the trial. The Salk vaccine is licenced in North America in 1955, followed by a massive immunization campaign.

Courtesy of Sanofi-Pasteur Canada


Clinical Trial of Chlorpromazine for schizophrenia

In Montreal, Dr. Heinz E. Lehmann and Dr. G. Hanrahan conduct the first clinical trial of the antipsychotic drug chlorpromazine. A trial with 75 mentally ill patients shows that chlorpromazine can suppress hallucinations and delusional paranoia. Ultimately, chlorpromazine becomes the standard antipsychotic treatment for schizophrenia.

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Creation of the Cobalt-60 Bomb for Radiation Therapy

In Saskatoon, Dr. Harold Elford Johns develops a machine that can direct cobalt-60 radiation to tumours in safe and measured doses. The same year, the first medical use of radiation therapy, using the "Cobalt Bomb," happens at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario. This innovation provides another valuable tool for treating cancer that leads to many new cancer therapy regimes. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used in combination to shrink cancer tumors and kill cancer cells.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, A-3622.


First Electrophoresis of Proteins

The first protein separation using electrophoresis is performed by Dr. Maud Menten, one of the first female physicians in Canada and a graduate of the University of Toronto. Electrophoresis is widely used in pharmaceutical research to isolate proteins that may have pharmaceutical applications.

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First Combined Vaccines Developed for diphtheria pertussis and tetanus

Connaught Laboratories at the University of Toronto develops the first combined vaccines to immunize for diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough) and tetanus (DPT). Today most infant immunizations provide protection for a combination of diseases.

Courtesy of Sanofi-Pasteur


First Studies to Validate the Tuberculosis Vaccine

Dr. Armand Frappier, at the Institut de Microbiologie et d'Hygiène de Montréal, advocates for full-scale, anti-tuberculosis vaccinations in North America using the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine. His advocacy and research resulted in valuable vaccine records that provided proof that the BCG vaccine worked. Frappier's records are still used today for epidemiological studies.

© Armand Frappier Museum


Development of Pablum

Pablum, a vitamin-enriched (A,B,D,E) cereal for infants, is developed by pediatricians Frederick Tisdall, Theodore Drake and Alan Brown at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. As the first convenient processed food specifically designed for babies, Pablum revolutionizes infant nutrition, helping to prevent malnutrition and rickets, a crippling childhood disease.

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First Canadian Manufacturer of synthetic Vitamin D

Charles E. Frosst & Co. of Montreal is the first producer of synthetic Vitamin D2 in Canada. Overall, Vitamin D supports bone development. It helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus and prevent rickets, a childhood disease characterized by soft, slow growing and deformed bones, particularly the long leg bones.

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Discovery of Parathyroid Hormone

Dr. James Bertram Collip, working at McGill University, Montreal, discovers the parathyroid hormone. This finding leads to a better understanding of how the body regulates calcium and the development of new treatments for osteoporosis, Paget's Disease and other bone disorders.

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Purified Insulin Developed

As a member of the Banting-Best team at Connaught Medical Research Laboratories in Toronto, Peter Joseph Moloney develops a method of using benzoic acid for concentrating and purifying insulin, allowing for large-scale production of insulin. This was the first pure and safe preparation of insulin for the world market.

Courtesy of Sanofi-Pasteur Canada


Discovery of Insulin for diabetes

Frederick Banting and his colleague Charles Best, under the leadership of John Macleod, perform animal studies with dogs at the University of Toronto that prove insulin is the hormone involved in glucose metabolism. With additional contributions from Dr. James Bertram Collip, this discovery ultimately leads to a means of treating diabetes. In 1923, Banting and colleagues receive Canada's first Nobel Prize in the category Physiology or Medicine.

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discovery of first blood thinner

Frank Schofield, a veterinary pathologist at the Ontario Veterinary College, identifies a potent anticoagulant (prevents clotting of blood) in moldy cattle feed. The compound, later identified as dicoumoral, leads the way to the discovery of vitamin K inhibitors, which prevent blood from clotting during surgery as well as prevent strokes and heart attacks caused by blood clots.

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Map showing distribution of vaccines and serums from Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories in the British Empire. c. 1917.

Founded by Dr. John Gerald FitzGerald, the Antitoxin Laboratories at the University of Toronto begins the production of the first Canadian-made diphtheria antitoxin. In 1917 the lab was renamed the Connaught Antitoxin Laboratories. By 1920, with his vision to make public health medicines universally available, a range of Connaught preventive products were available in Canada.

Courtesy of Sanofi-Pasteur Canada