HIV Pioneer Mark Wainberg, PhD, Dies Unexpectedly

Megan Brooks

April 12, 2017

UPDATED April 13, 2017 // Pioneering Canadian HIV/AIDS researcher and social activist Mark Wainberg, PhD, died April 12 at age 71. Dr Wainberg drowned while swimming in Bal Harbour, Florida.

Dr Wainberg's family was with him, and his son tried to rescue him, according to media reports citing comments from Bal Harbour Acting Police Chief Miguel De La Rose. It appears Dr Wainberg's son swam out to where he had seen his dad, was able to locate him, and began to swim back to shore with him. Other people on the beach went into the water to help bring him onto the shore. He was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Major Force in HIV Science

Dr Wainberg was a leader in the fight against AIDS. In a tweet, Paul Volberding, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, wrote, "Very sad to hear the Mark Wainberg drowned. He was a major force in HIV science. Will be missed."

Dr Mark Wainberg (Source: Reuters/Alamy)

In a release from the International AIDS Society (IAS), President Linda-Gail Bekker, MBChB, PhD, also commented on Dr Wainberg's impact. "We have lost one of our fiercest champions," she said. "To those of us in the research community, he was the epitome of dedication from the earliest days of the response. The impact of his work both through and beyond his role with the IAS will live on through the millions of people accessing HIV treatment and those of us who were lucky enough to know him."

IAS Executive Director Owen Ryan, MPH, added, "Mark was an eternal optimist at heart, quick to lighten the spirits of those around him and always at his core fighting diligently for human rights."

At the time of his death, Dr Wainberg was the head of AIDS research at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research (LDI), director of the McGill University AIDS Center at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, and professor of medicine, microbiology, and immunology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Dr Wainberg received a BSc from McGill University in 1966, a PhD from Columbia University in 1972, and did his postdoctoral research at Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.

Dr Wainberg and his collaborators were the first to identify the antiviral capabilities of 3TC (lamivudine), in collaboration with BioChem Pharma Inc, in 1989. He was also known for multiple contributions to the field of HIV drug resistance, including the identification of many of the mutations in the HIV genome that fuel drug resistance.

In more recent years, Dr Wainberg turned his attention to attempts to achieve a cure for HIV infection. His attempts were based on the possibility that HIV may not be able to become resistant to integrase inhibitors that block viral replication. "Dr Wainberg's research and that of his colleagues is acknowledged as having helped to save millions of lives around the world," LDI says on its website.

Dr Wainberg served as president of the IAS from 1998 to 2000, co-chair of the XVI International AIDS Conference in 2006, and was a past president of the Canadian Association for HIV Research.

At the time of his passing, Dr Wainberg was editor-in-chief of the Journal of the International AIDS Society and editor of Retrovirology. He also served as editor for several other publications, including the Journal of Human Virology, the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, International Antiviral News, AIDS Patient Care and STDs, the Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases, and AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.

Dr Wainberg received numerous awards and recognitions for his work. In 2001, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor, for his "major contributions to the study and treatment" of HIV/AIDS. In 2005, he was made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec, an order of merit bestowed by the government of the Province of Quebec.

In 2000, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2008, he was named a Chevalier de Légion d'honneur, the highest honor given by France.

Dr Wainberg was a strong and vocal advocate for people with AIDS and championed providing AIDS-related relief to developing countries. He was critical of politicians who ignore the problem of AIDS, including former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Dr Wainberg also opposed "AIDS denialism." In an interview in 2004, he proposed that those who harm others by publicly questioning HIV as the cause of AIDS should be charged with endangerment of public health and be jailed if convicted of the crime.

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