Virologist Lorne Tyrrell wins Hepatitis B Foundation's highest honour


Dr. Lorne Tyrrell of the University of Alberta has won the Hepatitis B Foundation's Baruch S. Blumberg Prize for his contributions to advancing the science and medicine of hepatitis B.

"The hepatitis B community owes a tremendous debt to Dr. Tyrrell for his pioneering work on the basic science and clinical development of new therapeutics for chronic hepatitis B," said foundation president and co-founder Timothy S. Block in a news release.

"Most notable are some of Dr. Tyrrell's initial studies with lamivudine and his role in the development of critical experimental systems that have become essential to developing and understanding the biology and virology of the hepatitis B virus and development of new antivirals."

The foundation said the award is considered to be the "Nobel Prize for hepatitis B research" and a committee of past Blumberg Prize recipients selects the next scientist to honour each year.

Dr. Tyrrell, who is also the founding director of the U of A's Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, told the foundation that he was a post-doctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1976 when Dr. Blumberg (for whom the award was named) won the Nobel Prize for discovering the hepatitis B virus.

Dr. Tyrrell, now 78, attended both the Nobel lecture and award ceremony, which influenced his decision to focus his research on hepatitis. His work led to the licensing of lamivudine, the first oral antiviral agent to treat hepatitis B, in 1998.

"For that reason, the Blumberg Prize has always been special in my view, so this is a tremendous honor and I'm extremely pleased and proud and humbled," Dr. Tyrrell told the Hepatitis B Foundation.

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, a smiling man in a suit wearing glasses

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, the founding director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, began focusing his research on viral hepatitis in 1986. (Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology)

Dr. Tyrrell was also recently recognized for his contribution to helping University of Alberta cancer researcher Jack Tuszynski get a promising chemotherapy treatment to human trials after its initial application was rejected by the U.S. Patent Office.

The Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute took an interest in Tuszynski's work because of "his unique potential to use computer algorithms to design and synthesize drugs for liver cancer, which is often a byproduct of living with hepatitis B and C."

Dr. Tyrrell has also been a core member of Canada's national COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force during the pandemic. He is giving a Lougheed College Lecture on Nov. 25 on the effort to make safe, effective vaccines available to Canadians.