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Mark Wainberg

Mark Wainberg, PhD, OC, OQ, FRSC (1945-2017)

Posthumous profile

3TC, AIDS/HIV, Drug resistance, Lamivudine
  • Senior Investigator, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research
  • Director, McGill University AIDS Centre
  • Professor, Medicine, and Microbiology and Immunology, McGill University


Mark Wainberg was the recipient of numerous international honours—including the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec—for his pioneering work, which included the development of a drug that has been instrumental in saving millions of lives around the world.

What motivated Mark Wainberg was not scientific inquiry alone, but his passion and commitment to helping those affected or endangered by HIV/AIDS. This sense of urgency was particularly evident at international conferences, where the outspoken Pr. Wainberg did not hesitate to criticize governments that he felt could be doing more to fight the disease and help those in need, especially in developing countries.

In fact, Pr. Wainberg’s determination to take an active role against AIDS was so strong that in the early 1980s, not long after the world-wide threat of AIDS gained prominence, he became the first scientist in Canada to work directly on HIV and to establish a bio-containment facility that was equipped to handle this specialized research.

He was also among the first in the world to identify the problem of HIV drug resistance, and he was instrumental in founding the Canadian Association for HIV Research.

This led directly to Pr. Wainberg’s key contribution in 1989 in the discovery of the anti-viral drug 3TC, or Lamivudine, which is combined with other medications to treat the infections caused by the human immunodeficiency virus.

“We have suffered the tragic loss of not only a world-class researcher, but a colleague and a dear friend,” said Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “I’m hard pressed to think of another scientist anywhere in the world who has accomplished so much and devoted so many years to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“Yet, through all of the many honours and accolades, Mark never rested on his laurels. Instead, he insisted on focusing on his work and pursuing his dream of finding a cure for the disease that has taken countless lives. He will be greatly missed.”

“He was a giant,” agreed Dr. Gerald Batist, Acting Director of the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research. “We are left with a hole in our hearts, in our LDI community and in the world of HIV science. The HIV-related world also misses one of its most powerful advocates.”

Mark Wainberg was head of HIV/AIDS research at the LDI, as well as Director of the McGill AIDS Centre, which is based at the JGH. He also served as Director of the LDI from 2000 to 2009.

A native Montrealer, Mark Wainberg was a Professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology, Pediatrics, and Medicine at McGill University. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from McGill and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. After working at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem as a post doctoral research fellow and lecturer, he joined the LDI as a staff investigator in 1974.

Pr. Wainberg served as President of the International AIDS Society from 1998 to 2000, with responsibilities that included organizing the 13th International Congress on AIDS in Durban, South Africa, in 2000. He also co-chaired the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006, where he publicly challenged the Canadian government to support global efforts to fight AIDS.

“Now that we can treat AIDS, we have to contend with growing complacency,” Pr. Wainberg stated in 2013. “The fact that many people live for decades with HIV means it costs billions to provide the necessary drugs. This is not sustainable, so the need for a cure is as pressing as ever.”

Among Mark Wainberg’s many honours were:

  • Officer of the Order of Canada
  • Officer of the National Order of Quebec
  • Chevalier in France’s Legion of Honour
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
  • Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
  • Member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame
  • Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada
  • Recipient of the 2012 Killam Prize for Health Science, one of Canada’s most significant awards