Learn about the scientists behind the discoveries, entrepreneurs,
political leaders, and significant events, people and institutions that are the foundation
of the biotechnology, medical device, pharmaceutical and life science industries
in the province of British Columbia.
Tell us about British Columbia's BioHistory. If you are aware of a notable event, person,
organization/company or accomplishment that we should include,
please e-mail: BioHistory@InfoResource.org
1859 -- Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species."
In 1859, British naturalist Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species by Means of
Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"
in which he postulated his theory of evolution that explained how the diverse of
species on Earth evolved from a simple, singled-celled ancestor.
From 1831-1836, Darwin served as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle -- a British
science expedition around the world. In South America Darwin discovered fossils of extinct animals
that were similar to modern species, and on the Galapagos Islands, located west of Equador,
he noticed many variations of plants and animals of the same general type as those in
South America. Throughout the expedition Darwin studied plants and animals
and collected specimens for further study.
Upon his return to London, Darwin conducted thorough research of his notes and specimens, and
out of his study grew several related theories: evolution did occur; evolutionary
change was gradual, requiring thousands to millions of years; the primary mechanism for
evolution was a process called natural selection; and the millions of species alive
today arose from a single original life form through a branching process called "specialization."
Darwin's theory of evolutionary selection holds that variation within species occurs randomly
and that the survival or extinction of each organism is determined by that organism's ability
to adapt to its environment. Darwin's theory of evolution remains the foundation of modern
1865 -- Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, presents his laws of heredity.
"In 1859 I obtained a very fertile
descendant with large, tasty seeds from a first generation hybrid. Since in the following
year, its progeny retained the desirable characteristics and were uniform, the variety was
cultivated in our vegetable garden, and many plants were raised every year up to
1865. (Gregor Mendel to Carl Nägeli, April 1867).
An educational resource for teachers and students.
1887 -- Marine Hospital Service Hygienic Laboratory (National Institutes of Health) founded.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) traces its roots to 1887,
when a one-room laboratory was created within the Marine Hospital Service (MHS), predecessor agency to the
U.S. Public Health Service (PHS). The MHS was established in 1798 to provide for the medical care of
merchant seamen -- charged by Congress with examining passengers on arriving ships for clinical signs of
infectious diseases, such as cholera and yellow fever, to prevent epidemics.
During the 1870s and 1880s, scientists in Europe presented compelling evidence that microscopic organisms
were the causes of several infectious diseases, and MHS officials closely followed these developments.
In 1887, Joseph Kinyoun, a MHS physician trained in the new bacteriological
methods, set up a one-room laboratory in the Marine Hospital at Stapleton, Staten Island,
New York. Kinyoun called this facility a "laboratory of hygiene" in imitation of German facilities, and within
a few months, he identified the cholera bacillus and used his Zeiss microscope to
demonstrate it to his colleagues as confirmation of their clinical diagnoses.
The Biologics Control Act enacted in 1902 had major consequences for the Hygienic Laboratory. It charged
the laboratory with regulating the production of vaccines and antitoxins, making it a regulatory agency
four years before passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act. The danger posed by biological products that had
emerged from bacteriologic discoveries resulted from their production in animals and their administration by
injection. In 1901, thirteen children in St. Louis died after receiving diphtheria antitoxin contaminated
with tetanus spores. This tragedy spurred Congress to pass the Biologics Control Act, and between 1903-1907
standards were established and licenses issued to pharmaceutical firms for making smallpox and rabies vaccines,
diphtheria and tetanus antitoxins, and various other antibacterial antisera. (In 1972, responsibility
for regulation of biologics was transferred to the Food and Drug Administration).
(Photo: courtesy of the NIH Almanac)
In 1912 MHS was reorganized, renamed the Public Health Service (PHS)
and authorized to conduct research into noncontagious diseases and into the pollution of
streams and lakes in the U.S. During World War I, the PHS attended primarily to sanitation of areas
around military bases in the U.S., and when the 1918 influenza pandemic struck Washington, physicians from the
laboratory were pressed into service treating patients in the District of Columbia because so many local
doctors had fallen ill. In 1930, the Ransdell Act changed the name of the Hygienic Laboratory to the National Institute
of Health (NIH) and authorized the establishment of fellowships for research into basic biological and medical
problems. The roots of this act extended to 1918, when chemists who had worked with the Chemical Warfare
Service in World War I sought to establish an institute in the private sector to apply fundamental knowledge
in chemistry to problems of medicine. In 1937, the National
Cancer Institute (NCI) was created with sponsorship from every Senator in Congress, and was authorized
to award grants to nonfederal scientists for research on cancer and to fund fellowships at NCI for young
During World War II, the NIH focused almost entirely on war-related problems. At the close of the war,
PHS leaders guided through Congress the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which defined the shape of medical
research in the post-war world. Two provisions were especially important: 1) In 1946 the NCI grants program was
expanded to the entire NIH, and the program grew from just over $4 million in 1947, to more than $100 million in
1957, and to $1 billion in 1974. The entire NIH budget expanded from $8 million in 1947 to more than $1 billion in
1966, now fondly remembered as "the golden years" of NIH expansion.
Accompanying growth in the grants program was the proliferation of new categorical institutes, and from
1946-1949, voluntary health organizations moved Congress to create institutes for research on mental health,
dental diseases, and heart disease. In 1948, language in the National Heart Act made the name of the
umbrella organization the National Institutes of Health. 2) The 1944 PHS Act authorized NIH to conduct clinical
research, and after the war Congress provided funding to build a research hospital, now called the Warren
Grant Magnuson Clinical Center on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The Center which opened in 1953 with 540 beds
was designed to bring research laboratories into close proximity with hospital wards in order to promote
productive collaboration between laboratory scientists and clinicians.
(Photo: National Archives and Records Administration photograph, courtesy of the Franklin Delano
Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York)
The NIH today, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency
for conducting and supporting medical research and is composed of 27 Institutes and Centers, providing
leadership and financial support to researchers in every state and throughout the world.
1899 -- Charles E. Frosst & Co founded.
Charles E. Frosst & Co, was founded in 1899 by Mr. Frosst and four associates in 1899, who rapidly introduced new
products such as the famous numbered analgesics known as 217® and 222® — products that are still used in Canada.
During the 1920s, the company became family-owned and developed a reputation for innovation.
During the mid-forties, Charles Frosst pioneered nuclear medicine in Canada by developing the country's first
radioactive pharmaceutical products, for sale in Canada and abroad.
In 1965, Merck & Co., Inc. of New Jersey acquired Charles E. Frosst & Co. In 1968,
Merck Frosst Laboratories
was created to act as the service company to the two sales companies: Merck Sharp & Dohme Canada Limited; and
Charles E. Frosst & Co. In 1982, the three companies were restructured under the name Merck Frosst Canada Inc.
and it became a fully integrated pharmaceutical company. The company later changed its name to Merck Frosst Canada Ltd.
Today, Merck Frosst, headquartered in Montreal, is one of Canada 's leading research-based pharmaceutical companies
and possesses a long record of innovation. The company employs nearly 1,600 people, including more than 300 of the world's
leading scientific personnel. The Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research, one of the largest biomedical research
facilities in Canada, has the mandate to discover new therapies for the treatment of respiratory diseases, inflammatory
diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis.
1908 -- The University of British Columbia founded.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) was founded
in 1908 by The University Act. In 1910 a site was chosen at Point Grey just outside Vancouver, but the university had
to postpone building due to the outbreak of way in 1914. The school used the former McGill college site
in Fairview until 1925.
Today the university enrolls over 40,000 students and holds an international reputation for
excellence in advanced research and learning. The university has three campuses within
the city of Vancouver as well as a small campus in Kelowna, BC called UBC Okanagan.
UBC ranks in the top 10 of universities in North America creating spin-off companies with over 120
1918 -- Spanish Influenza Pandemic.
It is estimated that between 25 and 40 million people died
from the the influenza outbreak that began in 1918, swept across America in a week and
around the world in three months. In all, between 500,000 and 700,000 Americans
--civilians and soldiers-- died from the influenza, more than were lost in World War I,
II, and the Korean and Viet Nam wars combined.
In September 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a five-year,
$12.5 million grant to five institutions that will collaborate to study
genes constructed from 1918 flu-virus particles salvaged from the bodies of World
War I soldiers and the exhumed Brevig Mission, Alaska resident. The Institutions include
the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.; Mount Sinai School of Medicine,
New York; Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA; the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention; and the University of Washington. The ultimate goal is to use knowledge
gained from the study to develop vaccines, influenza medications and diagnostic tests to
prevent a similar influenza outbreak.
1933 -- Thomas Hunt Morgan awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his
chromosome theory of heredity.
Thomas Hunt Morgan pioneered the new science of genetics through experimental
research with the fruit fly (Drosophila), laying the foundations for the future of biology. On
the basis of fly-breeding experiments he demonstrated that genes are linked in a series on
chromosomes and that they determine indentifiable, hereditary traits.
1947 -- Transistor invented at AT&T's Bell Laboratories.
The transistor, the invention that marked the dawn of the
information age, was invented by John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain at AT&T's Bell Laboratories. Bardeen,
Shockley and Brattain were awarded the 1956
Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the transistor effect.
The double helix structure of DNA, the hereditary molecule is revealed by
two scientists, James D. Watson and Francis Crick. This is one of the key
discoveries of the century. Watson and Crick shared the 1962
Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Maurice Wilkins for their discoveries
concerning the molecular structure of nuclear acids and its significance for information
transfer in living material.
Jack Kilby, an engineer at
Texas Instruments shows only a transistor and other components on a slice of
germanium. This invention (7/16-by-1/16-inches in size), called an integrated
circuit, revolutionized the electronics industry. Kilby was awarded
the 2000 Nobel Prize in
Physics for his invention of the integrated circuit.
(Photo: Jack Kilby courtesy of Texas Instruments)
1961 -- President John F. Kennedy expands U.S. Space Program
Listen to President John F. Kennedy's speech in
his historic message to a joint session of the Congress, on May 25, 1961 declared,
"...I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade
is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This goal was
achieved when astronaut Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to set foot upon the
Moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT, July 20, 1969. Shown in the background are, (left) Vice
President Lyndon Johnson, and (right) Speaker of the House Sam T. Rayburn. The expansion of
the U.S. Space Program resulted in the development of a wide range of technology with
enormous benefit to human and animal kind.
(Photo: Courtesy of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration)
1969 -- Man walks on the moon.
In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, American astronauts, made
history by becoming the first men to walk on the moon.
Listen to Neil Armstrong's first words as he steps onto the lunar
surface (66 kb .wav file).
(Photo: Courtesy of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration)
An important benefit of the Apollo Lunar Program and
other NASA programs is the ever-growing pipeline of technology that improves human and
veterinary healthcare diagnostics and therapeutics.
1969 -- Victor McKusick publishes "Mendelian Inheritance in Man".
Victor McKusick, widely acknowledged as the father of medical genetics, spent his career studying
the genetic basis of diseases and disorders with the belief that such an understanding could lead
to new methods of diagnosis and treatment. He studied, identified, and mapped genes responsible for
inherited conditions such as Marfan syndrome and dwarfism (specifically in Amish communities).
In 1969, he proposed the idea of mapping the human genome, over 30 years before the Human
Genome Project was established.
McKusick, a graduate of Johns Hopkins (M.D. 1946), spent his entire career there and founded
the Division of Medical Genetics in 1957, the first research center and clinic of its kind. In
1969 he published the 1st edition of his
book "Mendelian Inheritance of Man",
one of the most comprehensive collections of inherited disease genes. In 2002, McKusick received the
highest scientific honor in the U.S., the National Medal of Science.
1971 -- NASDAQ Stock Market founded.
Nasdaq, founded February 8, 1971, is now the largest U.S. electronic stock
market. With approximately 3,300 companies, it lists more companies and, on
average, trades more shares per day than any other U.S. market. NASDAQ is
home to companies that are leaders across all areas of business including
technology, retail, communications, financial services, transportation, media,
biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical.
The modern era of biotechnology begins when Stanley Cohen of
Stanford University and Herbert Boyer of the University of
California at San Francisco successfully recombine ends of bacterial DNA after splicing a
toad gene in between. They call their accomplishment recombinant DNA,
but the media prefers using the term genetic engineering. (Photo: Courtesy Stanley Cohen)
1974 -- Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
John N. Erlenborn, the ranking Republican on the House Committee, was responsible for
bringing the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to a floor vote, and
is one of the ERISA’s "Founding Fathers." Together with Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY), Senator
Pete Williams (D-NJ) and Congressman John Dent (D-PA), Erlenborn crafted provisions and
participated in negotiations that were instrumental to the enactment of ERISA which was - and
remains - the single most important legislation governing employee benefit plans in the United
States providing an important source of financial investment for the stock market.
(Photos: Jacob Javits and Pete Williams courtesy U.S. Senate Historical Office).
1975 -- Monoclonal antibodies produced.
In 1975, Georges Köhler and César Milstein, showed how monoclonal antibodies can be generated by
isolating individual fused myeloma cells.
1976 -- Genentech, founder of the biotechnology industry, established.
In 1976, Genentech was founded by venture capitalist
Robert Swanson and biochemist Dr. Herbert Boyer. In the early 1970s, Boyer and
geneticist Stanley Cohen at Stanford University pioneered recombinant DNA technology.
Excited by the breakthrough, Swanson called Boyer who agreed to give the young entrepreneur
10 minutes of his time. Swanson's enthusiasm for the technology resulted in a three hour meeting
and at its conclusion, Genentech was born.
Within a few short years Swanson and Boyer invented a new industry - biotechnology.
In 1980, Genentech issued its Initial Public Offering (IPO) and raised $35 million
with an offering that jumped from $35 a share to a high of $88 after less than an hour on the
market. The event was one of the largest stock run-ups ever, and that event set the stage for
future biotechnolgy industry offerings.
Genentech was initially broadly focused in three areas including food processing,
industrial chemicals, and human health care. In 1982, Eli Lilly & Co. which had acquired
worldwide rights to Genenetch's recombinant human insulin (1978) received FDA approval to
market the product -- the first biotechnology therapeutic to reach the marketplace.
Beginning in 1983, Genentech became solely focused on human therapeutics
and diagnostics, and in 1985, Genentech received approval from FDA to market its first product,
Protropin® (somatrem for injection) growth hormone for children with growth hormone deficiency
— the first recombinant pharmaceutical product to be manufactured and marketed by a
biotechnology company. In 1990, Genentech and Roche Holding Ltd. of Basel, Switzerland completed a
$2.1 billion merger. Today, Genentech is among the world's leading biotech companies with
multiple protein-based products on the market for serious or life-threatening medical
1980 -- U.S. Supreme Court ruled man-made organism patentable.
Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds five-to-four the patentability of
genetically altered organisms, opening the door to greater patent protection for any
modified life forms.
In 1972, Chakrabarty, a microbiologist, filed a patent
application, assigned to the General Electric Co. for a human-made genetically engineered
bacterium capable of breaking down multiple components of crude oil. Because of this
property, which is possessed by no naturally occurring bacteria, Chakrabarty's invention
was believed to have significant value for the treatment of oil spills. The application
asserted 36 claims related to Chakrabarty's invention of "a bacterium from the genus
Pseudomonas containing therein at least two stable energy-generating plasmids, each of
said plasmids providing a separate hydrocarbon degradative pathway.
Opinions: Chief Justice Warren Burger delivered the opinion
of the Court, in which justices Potter Stewart, Harry Blackmun, William Rehnquist, and
John Paul Stevens joined. William Brennan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Byron
White, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell joined.
1980 -- Bayh-Dole Act provides for university technology transfer.
H.R.6933, Public Law: 96-517, December 12, 1980. A bill to amend title
35 of the United States Code. This Act known as the Bayh-Dole Act provided for the legal transfer of research and
technology originating from U.S. universities and federal laboratories to private
companies for commercialization. Technology transfer offices are now common in
universities and federal laboratories and are the technology foundation for numerous
biotechnology and medical device companies. (Photos: Birch Bayh and
Robert Dole courtesy U.S. Senate Historical Office)
The U.S. Human Genome
Project was established -- a 13-year effort coordinated by the U.S.
Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. The project, originally
planned to last 15 years, was expected to be completed by 2003 due to
rapid technological advances.
Identify all the estimated 80,000 genes in human DNA,
Determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical bases that make up human DNA,
Store this information in databases,
Develop tools for data analysis, and
Address the ethical, legal, and social issues that may arise from the project.
1991 -- LifeSciences British Columbia (BC Biotech) founded.
LifeSciences British Columbia , formerly known as BC Biotech
and founded in 1991, supports and represents the biotechnology, medical device, and greater life sciences community
of British Columbia through leadership, advocacy and promotion of the industry.
1993 -- Kary B. Mullis awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
PCR allows scientists to quickly replicate small strands of DNA, greatly simplifying
the sequencing and cloning of genes. First presented in 1985, PCR has become one of
the most widespread methods of analyzing DNA. Notably, PCR requires the heat-stable enzyme
Taq (Thermus Aquaticus) which originated from hot springs located in Yellowstone
1993 -- Michael Smith awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Vancouver Prostate Centre, founded in 1998,
has become Canada's leading prostate cancer research and treatment centres. The mission of the Vancouver
Prostate Centre is to foster the paradigm of team-driven translational health research to discover
molecular mechanisms of cancer progression and therapeutic resistance, and to use this
information to develop new services and products that reduce suffering, improve survival for patients
with cancer and promote regional growth of biotechnology. Today, more than 2,500 patients are seen
annually by the Centre.
The assembled multidisciplinary team of basic and clinical scientists seamlessly span the spectrum of
fundamental research and discovery, preclinical proof of principle, and clinical Phase I through
Phase III trials. To facilitate development of the patented therapies through clinical trial, Dr. Martin
Gleave, Director of Clinical Research at the Prostate Centre, has founded OncoGeneX Technologies Inc.,
an early stage biotechnology company that will help initiate clinical trials with our lead compound.
A second Vancouver-based functional genomics company, Aquinox Pharmaceuticals, was founded in 1999
to commercialize novel, proprietary functional genomics platform technologies that provide tools aimed at
enhancing the speed and efficiency of discovery and validation of targets for drug- and antibody-based human
therapeutics. These functional genomics platform technologies are the subjects of patent applications made by
the University of British Columbia relating to technologies developed by Dr. Christopher John Ong. The Prostate
Centre collaborates with many other Biotech companies in North America.
1999 -- Canada's Michael Smith Genome Science Centre founded.
In 1999, Michael Smith, recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, founded the Genome Sciences Centre in British Columbia. The center performs high-throughput genome mapping
and DNA sequencing to determine genetic codes, specifically to further cancer research, diagnosis,
In 2003, researchers at the centre were the first to sequence the SARS genome, an important
step in the development of a potential treatment and vaccine.
2000 -- Genome British Columbia founded.
Genome British Columbia, founded in 2000,
is one of six Genome Canada centres across the country. Genome Canada is the primary funding and information resource
related to genomics and proteomics in Canada.
Genome British Columbia is a research organization that invests in and manages large-scale genomics and proteomics
research projects and science and technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance such as human health,
forestry, fisheries, ethics, agriculture and the environment. By working collaboratively with all levels of government,
universities and industry, Genome BC is the catalyst for a vibrant, genomics-driven life sciences cluster with far reaching
social and economic benefits for the province and Canada.
2001 -- Human Genome Project draft sequence published.
The February 16 issue of Science and February
15 issue of Nature contained the working draft of the human genome
sequence (U.S. Human Genome
Project). Nature papers included initial analysis of the descriptions of the sequence
generated by the publicly sponsored Human Genome Project, while Science publications focused
on the draft sequence reported by the private company, Celera Genomics.
2008 -- British Columbia BioEvolution illustrates the technology origins of state's industry.
British Columbia BioEvolution -- a one-of-a-kind
genealogy chart that illustrates the "technology origins" of more than 100 firms and
non-profit research organizations that comprise the biotechnology and medical device
industry in the province of British Columbia.
2009 -- Year of Science launched by the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science.
Year of Science
launched by the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) will embark on a celebratory
journey with you to share how science works, what it is like to be a scientist, and why science matters.
In nearly every state, participants in the celebration will demonstrate how we know about our natural world
and why science continues to be so vitally important to our communities, our country, and the world.