The John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award recognizes the world’s leading researchers who have used rational, scientifically based research to improve the wellbeing of those facing health inequalities worldwide. While a single significant scientific discovery would continue to be sufficient evidence to select a nominee, the Award will also recognize outstanding researchers who apply rational scientific approaches to successful implementation, evaluation and policy interventions.
Gairdner invites nominations from any field of research impacting global health and health inequity. The award is intended for research-focused candidates, not those primarily involved in administrative or advocacy roles. This award can be shared by multiple recipients at the discretion of the Foundation.
Quality nominations are essential to the evaluation process for this award. Packages should be accurate, current, and complete throughout the five year period of consideration. The nomination portal is open each year from mid-April- October 1 for edits, changes or additions by nominators.
The recipients will be announced in March of 2021, and presented at the awards dinner in Toronto in October of 2021. Nominations for the 2021 awards are due by October 1, 2020.
The work: In 1973, the Kitasato Institute in Japan, led by Professor Satoshi Omura, formed a collaborative research partnership with Merck to discover new animal health products. Within this partnership, Professor Omura and his research team based at the Kitasato Institute in Tokyo isolated and screened microorganisms and sent the promising ones to the Merck laboratories in the United States. Of particular interest was a microorganism, Streptomyces avermitilis, isolated from soil near an oceanside golf course in Japan which had potent bioactivity. Researchers at Merck’s lab conducted further testing on the microorganism and then the compound responsible for the activity was named avermectin. Scientists at Merck refined avermectin under the name ivermectin, which was the safest and most potent derivative. Despite decades of searching around the world, the Japanese microorganism remains the only source of avermectin ever found.
The impact: Ivermectin, commercialized in 1981 as a highly successful veterinary drug active against both internal and external parasites, was later found to be safe and effective for treating several human parasitic diseases such as Onchocerciasis (river blindness) and Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). Merck joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa (OCP) to test the drug in humans. Ivermectin was registered for human use by French regulators in 1987. With the Kitasato Institute agreeing to forego royalties, Dr. Roy Vagelos, the then Chief Executive of Merck, announced that ivermectin would be provided free of charge for the treatment of river blindness for “as long as it is needed,” a pledge that is still being honoured. Utilizing a truly international partnership involving the public and private sectors, governments of disease-endemic countries and affected communities, mass drug administration commenced in 1988 and the donation has allowed the goal of eliminating both diseases to become achievable in the near future. Ivermectin has also become the drug of choice to treat strongyloidiasis, scabies and head lice and research is being conducted into its effectiveness against other neglected tropical diseases.
Prof. Satoshi Ōmura received an M.S. degree in 1963 from Tokyo University of Science, followed by a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1968 from the University of Tokyo, and another in Chemistry two years later from the Tokyo University of Science. His first position was as a Research Associate at University of Yamanashi (1963-1965). In 1965 he began his career-long association with the Kitasato Institute, initially as a researcher, over the years occupying various posts, culminating in his appointment in 1990 as President. He served as President Emeritus of The Kitasato Institute (2008-2012), and is currently a Distinguished Emeritus Professor and Special Coordinator of the Research Project for Drug Discovery from Natural Products in the Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences, Kitasato University. He was also appointed as inaugural Max Tishler Professor of Chemistry at Wesleyan University (USA) in 2005.
Commencing with his studies in Organic Chemistry at the Tokyo University of Science, from 1965 onwards he has performed comprehensive research on Bioorganic Chemistry, focusing on bioactive substances of microbial origin. He devised several innovative new methods for isolating and culturing microorganisms and established many original methods of screening for bioactive substances. As a result, he has discovered more than 470 novel bioactive compounds. Among them, the globally significant anthelmintic antibiotic avermectin and its derivatives, seen by many to rival penicillin in their impact on global health, were discovered through collaborative research with Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories (USA), his group eventually deciphering the entire genome of the producing organism, Streptomyces avermectinius.
Prof. Ōmura has been widely recognized in the natural-products chemistry field, as evidenced by his numerous awards and honors. Among these are the Hoechst-Roussel Award from American Society for Microbiology, Charles Thom Award (Society for Industrial Microbiology, USA), Robert Koch Gold Medal (Germany), Prince Mahidol Award (Thailand), Nakanishi Prize of Japan Chemical Society and the American Chemical Society, Ernest Gunther Award of the American Chemical Society, Hamao Umezawa Memorial Award of the International Society of Chemotherapy, Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry, Arima Award of the International Union of Microbiology, and the Japan Academy Prize. He has been decorated with France’s L’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur Chevalier in 2007, and also has been designated by Japan in 2012 as a highly-prestigious Person of Cultural Merit.
Dr. Fauci has made critical contributions to the understanding of how HIV destroys the body’s immune defenses. His defining research on the mechanisms of HIV disease along with his work on developing and testing drug therapies have been highly influential in establishing the scientific basis for effective HIV therapies and prevention modalities for patients living with HIV/AIDS.
As a testament to his extraordinary research accomplishments, Dr. Fauci was ranked in a 2015 analysis of Google Scholar citations as the 14th most highly cited researcher of all time, dead or alive, in any field. In addition to his own individual contributions to science, Dr. Fauci has served as Director of the USA National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for 32 years. In this role he has been a major driving force and thought leader in the biomedical research response to infectious diseases that have devastated many regions of the developing world. He has been a key figure in marshalling U.S. government support for and directing research that led to the development of the antiretroviral drug combinations that have transformed the lives of HIV-infected individuals, providing many with an essentially normal life expectancy. One of Dr. Fauci’s most important accomplishments was his role as the principal architect of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which over the past 13 years has been responsible for saving the lives of millions of HIV-infected individuals and preventing millions of HIV infections through the developing world, particularly in sub-Saharan African.
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health. Since his appointment as NIAID director in 1984, Dr. Fauci has overseen an extensive research portfolio devoted to preventing, diagnosing, and treating infectious and immune-mediated diseases. Dr. Fauci also is chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, where he has made numerous important discoveries related to HIV/AIDS and is one of the most-cited scientists in the field. Dr. Fauci serves as one of the key advisors to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues, and on initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness against emerging infectious disease threats such as Ebola and pandemic influenza. He was one of the principal architects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has already been responsible for saving millions of lives throughout the developing world.
Dr. Fauci is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards for his scientific and global health accomplishments, including the National Medal of Science, the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been awarded 42 honorary doctoral degrees and is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,280 scientific publications, including several major textbooks.