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Honorary degree citation - Julia Levy

By: Michel Magnan, June 2002

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Dr. Julia Levy, distinguished scientist and founder of QLT Inc. a leading Canadian pharmaceutical company. She recently stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of QLT and is currently Executive Chairman of its Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr. Levy is a research scientist, an inventor, a technological and a business leader. Her soaring success did not come overnight, it is the result of many years of hard work in the realms of science and business. Born Julia Coppens in Singapore, she came to Canada with her mother and sister at the outbreak of the Second World War. Her father was held in Indonesia as a prisoner of war, and survived. Her experience as a refugee has imparted her with a intellectual readiness for unforeseen events. Julia Levy completed her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of British Columbia in 1955. She went on to earn her PhD in microbiology from University College, London, in 1958. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and holds a number of prestigious awards for her scientific contributions. She was a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia prior to founding Quadra Logic Technologies in 1981.

At times, her scientific curiosity has been intertwined with concerns about her family. One day many years ago, when Julia Levy was a young scientist at the University of British Columbia, she was puzzled by burn-like rashes on her son's legs after he had been playing in a field of cow parsley.
A colleague theorized that the rash was caused by the reaction of chemicals in the parsley to sunlight. For Dr. Levy, an odyssey was begun.

Through Quadra Logic Technologies, now called QLT Inc., she began her exploration of using sunlight to activate drugs. Dr. Levy started out working on a light-activated drug for treating cancer, but turned her attention to age-related macular degeneration when her mother developed the disease. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for people older than 50, and the number of cases is expected to triple over the next 25 years.

Dr. Levy's endeavours to find ways to use light-activated drugs to treat deteriorating blood vessels at the back of the eye make her a pioneer in the field of photodynamic therapy. She led QLT in developing the light-activated age-related macular degeneration drug Visudyne. But inventing a new drug was only the first triumph. Dr. Levy then guided Visudyne through the rigorous drug approval process. Indeed, QLT is only the second Canadian pharmaceutical company to successfully navigate the scientific and regulatory regimes necessary to placing a product on pharmacy shelves. Dr. Levy introduced the medical community to the new treatment modality of photodynamic therapy, which may also prove effective in the management of other diseases.

Two decades of perseverance have come to fruition with the availability of Visudyne to the public. Dr. Levy's imagination, determination and patience have turned a mysterious cow-parsley rash into an anti-blindness drug, grown a penny-stock company into a thriving and profitable biotechnology firm, and opened up a promising field of therapy.

Dr. Levy and her team of innovators at QLT also realized her initial objective, the development of a light-activated anti-cancer drug. They are now working on a new program to treat auto-immune diseases such as alopecia and psoriasis with a second-generation photodynamic drug. In addition, QLT is developing a cancer drug which counteracts drug resistance in cancer cells.

Dr. Levy is a scientist and an entrepreneur who has built a formidable research-based company that has grown into one of North America's leading biotechnology firms. She is a leader with the wisdom to value variety of opinion and collaboration. Her creativity, perseverance and inclusive leadership style continue to inspire.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you Dr. Julia Levy, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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