Werner Kalow Medicine

Brought pharmacology and genetics together into a subspecialty called pharmacogenetics Discovered genetic variants of plasma cholinesterase

The Story

Dr. Werner Kalow graduated from medical school at the beginning of WWII. He served in the German Navy as a ship's surgeon. He was taken as a prisoner of war to Arizona, USA, where he worked as a camp surgeon. Released in 1947, he returned to Berlin, hoping to become a medical scientist.

Dr. Kalow was offered a position in two departments: Pathology and Pharmacology. He chose pharmacology because its building was located in the American-occupied sector, while the other department was in the Russian sector. Dr. Kalow’s career took a turn when he investigated a patient’s death caused by a safe local anesthetic drug.

In the late 1940s Dr. Kalow received an invitation for a year’s study from the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. There, he continued his research on blood plasma’s response to different chemicals.

While in Philadelphia, Dr. Kalow presented his findings in a scientific meeting where he met Dr. Ken Ferguson, the Chair of Pharmacology in Toronto. Dr. Ferguson invited Dr. Kalow to visit him in Toronto and later offered him a position in his department at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Kalow joined the University of Toronto in 1951 and spent much of his career there. His research has been focused on the study of how genetic variations affect drug metabolism and drug safety. He is considered one of the fathers of pharmacogenetics.

Dr. Kalow has authored more than 300 scientific papers. He published a monograph on the field of pharmacogenetics in 1962 and edited two books, the latest Pharmacogenomics, released in August 2005.

More Information

Atypical plasma cholinesterase. A personal discovery story: a tale of three cities by Dr. Werner Kalow

Defining a Discipline Article about Werner Kalow – “father of pharmacogeneticss”

Dr. Werner Kalow: recipient of 2001 Killam Prize

Image: University of Toronto



The Person

February 15, 1917
Cottbus, Germany
Date of Death
January 31, 2008
Toronto, Ontario
Family Members
  • Spouse: Pat
  • Son: Peter
  • Daughter: Barbara Irene
Professor Emeritus
University of Toronto
  • M.D. Koenigsberg University, Germany, 1941
  • Killam Prize, 2001
  • Distinguished Career Award, Drug Information Association, 1997
  • Werner Kalow Lecture, University of Toronto, Drug Safety Research Group, 1995
  • Oscar B. Hunter Award 1993, American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1993
  • Research Recognition Award, Canadian Anaesthetists' Society, 1993
  • Visiting Professor, Karolinska Institute, 1990
  • Upjohn Award, Pharmacological Society of Canada, 1981
  • Honorary Member, Canadian Anaesthetists’ Society, 1980
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 1976
Last Updated
September 25, 2015

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