Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

“He was a brilliant man dedicated to combating cancer.”

© Irma Coucill and the CMHF
1997 Inductee

Dr. Charles Beer

Born: 
November 18, 1915, Leigh, Dorset, England
Died: 
June 15, 2010, Vancouver, British Columbia
Education: 
PhD - Oxford University
Dr. Beer's major contribution to medicine was the isolation of the anti-cancer drug "vinblastine" at the University of Western Ontario in 1958. He worked closely with the late, Dr. Robert L. Noble to develop vinblastine from the leaves of the Madagascar periwinkle plant, Vinca Rosea. Vinblastine is one of the most useful chemotherapeutic agents available and its discovery and isolation is considered to be a milestone in the history of cancer chemotherapy, particularly for the management of Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer.

Receiving his doctorate from Oxford University in 1948, Dr. Charles Beer's studies focused on organic chemistry. In 1951, he moved to North America, accepting research fellowships and positions at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York (1951- 1954), the University of Western Ontario (1954-55, 1957-60), McGill-Montreal General Hospital Research Institute (1955-56) and the University of British Columbia (1960-81).

He had been a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of British Columbia and an Honorary Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Cancer Endocrinology, British Columbia Cancer Agency.

When Dr. Beer arrived in Dr. Noble's laboratory at UWO in September 1954, Dr. Noble had been working with the periwinkle plant based on earlier suggestions that it might be useful in diabetes. and his biochemical expertise led to the isolation and purification of vinblastine.

The process received a patent in the name of C.T. Beer, J.H. Cutts (a doctoral student co-worker) and R.L. Noble and was administered by the University in cooperation with the Eli Lilly Co. of Indianapolis. While Dr. Noble has received broad recognition for this important work, Dr. Beer's essential role in the vinblastine story has been largely overlooked. Dr. Beer's distinguished research and teaching career continued in the field of biochemistry with further work with vinblastine and related biochemical cancer research.

Read an online tribute to Dr. Beer from the Globe and Mail.

Dr. Beer and Dr. Robert Noble were jointly nominated and inducted.