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Francesco Bellini: scientist, entrepreneur, visionary

Dr. Francesco Bellini - Owan Egan

On a tour of the Life Sciences Complex just prior to the completion of major construction this past April, Dr. Francesco Bellini was asked what he thought about one of the finished but as yet unoccupied labs in the building bearing his name. Dr. Bellini smiled but gazed wistfully at the empty room. “I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “But I want to see scientists, researchers and equipment in here. I can’t wait until that day. When I see people working, then it will be complete.”

Dr. Bellini knows a lot about dreams and the important part that people and hard work play in achieving them. He gave $10-million of his personal fortune in 2002 to get the Life Sciences Complex started. Once Dr. Bellini’s gift was in place, government money and funding from other sources began coming in. In six short years, Dr. Bellini’s vision is being fulfilled.

“I think what really made me decide to make my gift to McGill is when they told me that scientists from different faculties and departments would all work together in the same space, under the same roof,” he said. “That was what made me decide. It’s very important to me as a scientist. One of the big challenges is getting different groups to communicate and that is the key factor here. Because hopefully, scientists and researchers will learn to share together and things will advance faster than they normally would.”

Dr. Bellini also knows the value of good people and hard work. An Italian native who immigrated to Montreal in 1967, Dr. Bellini aspired to become a full fledged scientist, enrolling in night classes at Concordia University and following up his BSc with a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of New Brunswick. Through BioChem Pharma, the Montreal based firm he co-founded in 1986, Dr. Bellini catapulted Canadian biopharmaceutical research to global prominence. By the late 1980s, in collaboration with the late Bernard Belleau, a McGill graduate and chemistry professor, Dr. Bellini developed and commercialized 3TC, the first anti-HIV compound drug, which remains the cornerstone of combination HIV/AIDS infection therapies.

Dr. Bellini stressed that his donation recognizes the critical role McGill researchers have played in his past endeavours. He hopes his gift enables McGill students and researchers to continue being at the forefront of health and science research.

“It’s a very beautiful complex,” he said. “But the people are what make it special.”