Pieter Cullis Biochemistry

Lipid-based drug delivery systems

The Story

Cullis is a university professor as well as chief scientific officer and senior vice-president, Research at Inex Pharmaceuticals Corp., a UBC spin-off company he co-founded in 1992. Inex conducts basic and applied research on liposomes as models of biological membranes and as drug delivery vehicles, with particular emphasis on delivery of genetic drugs such as antisense oligonucleotides and plasmids containing therapeutic genes. The major application is for treatment of cancer. Cullis was a Scholar of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and subsequently an MRC Scientist. From 1987 to 1991, Dr. Cullis was President and Director of The Canadian Liposome Company (CLC), a company he co-founded. CLC was a subsidiary of The Liposome Company Inc.(TLC), a public company located in Princeton, New Jersey. Dr. Cullis was a consultant to TLC from 1984 to 1992. He has published more than 200 scientific articles.

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As A Young Scientist...

After finishing a PhD program in physics, Pieter Cullis decided he was ready to take on the challenge of studying biological systems. He obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from MRC to study at Oxford, then won an MRC new-investigator Scholarship and grant to set up a research program at the University of British Columbia in 1978 . Says Cullis, "Our main interest was in cell membranes... how they work, how they fuse with one another and how substances move through them. To investigate these problems we required "model membrane" systems, which are tiny spheres consisting of a lipid bilayer surrounding an interior aqueous space. So we devised ways to make them. One day we were observing how different cationic dyes would accumulate in these spheres if the interior was acidic. Just out of curiosity, we then tried using some of the cationic anti-cancer drugs on the shelf of our lab. They moved into the lipid spheres perfectly! That was the chance beginning of our 18-year MRC research program on encapsulating drugs."

The Person

Vancouver, BC
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of British Columbia
  • Ayerst award of the Canadian Biochemical Society, 1986
  • BC Biotech Innovation and Achievement Award, 2002
Last Updated
June 17, 2015

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