Drug pioneer earns $3.2-million research funding

Prof. David Dolphin will continue groundbreaking work into treating diseases with light-activated drugs

by Andy Poon staff writer

David Dolphin, a Chemistry professor and UBC's acting vice-president of Research, has received a $3.2-million grant in support of his pioneering work in the field of photodynamic therapy.

Dolphin has received a Collaborative Research and Development Grant of $1.4-million over five years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) with a $1.8-million contribution from Vancouver-based QLT PhotoTherapeutics Inc.

"I am very honoured to receive the grant," says Dolphin. "It will certainly be of great benefit in continuing my research in photosensitizers."

He serves as vice-president of technology development for QLT and has consulted for chemical and pharmaceutical companies throughout North America.

The funding from the peer-reviewed grant will go towards his work in photodynamic therapy--developing new photosensitizers (a class of light-activated drugs) to treat new diseases, research ways to improve the molecules and new methods of treatment delivery for patients.

Considered a world expert on porphyrin chemistry for his extensive basic research in these areas, Dolphin helped spawn the technology for QLT with his research into the photochemical behaviour of tetrapyrrolic macrocycles.

QLT is a leader in the use of light-activated drugs for the treatment of cancer, diseases of the eye, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. Dolphin began his research in the field of photodynamic therapy in the early 1980s along with QLT president and founder Julia Levy, a professor of Microbiology at UBC.

Specifically, his work led to the development of Visudyne(TM) (verteporfin), QLT's product for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50.

"AMD is a devastating disease," says Dolphin. "It causes blindness and there is no known cure at the moment."

In the "wet" form of AMD, abnormal blood vessels in the central part of the retina, known as the macula, leak and over time cause photoreceptor damage and scar tissue buildup. The majority of patients lose total central vision within two years.

According to QLT, approximately 500,000 new patients develop wet AMD every year. It causes 90 per cent of the vision loss associated with the condition.

Dolphin received his BSc and a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Nottingham in England. After completing his doctorate studies, Dolphin joined Harvard University as a research fellow. While at Harvard, he rose to the rank of associate professor of Chemistry before joining UBC in 1974.

At UBC, Dolphin has garnered numerous awards and distinctions, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Science Council of British Columbia Gold Medal in Health Sciences and an Izaak Walton Killam Research Prize.

Dolphin has also served as associate dean of Science and acting dean of Science.