Bellini: Builder of dreams

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McGill Reporter
April 11, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 14
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > April 11, 2002 > Bellini: Builder of dreams

Bellini: builder of dreams

"Focus on a goal and achieve it," says Francesco Bellini. At 54, he's lived by that motto his entire life.

Photo Francesco Bellini

Bellini's can-do attitude is what prompted him to immigrate from his native Italy to join a Montreal pharmaceutical company as a lab technician in 1967. But Bellini aimed higher and aspired to become a full-fledged scientist. To reach his ambition, he enrolled in night classes at Concordia University and graduated with a BSc in 1972. He followed up with a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of New Brunswick in 1977.

For the next two decades Bellini's professional career blossomed. Through BioChem Pharma, the Montreal-based firm he co-founded in 1986 that is now a part of Shire BioChem, 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, Bellini developed and commercialized 3TC, the first anti-HIV compound drug. 3TC remains as the cornerstone of combination HIV/AIDS infection therapies.

"Francesco Bellini is ahead of his time. He's a man who is a rare combination of brilliant businessman and scientist," says Mark Wainberg, director of the McGill AIDS Centre and 3TC researcher. "Dr. Bellini immediately understood the potential for AIDS treatments at a time when many of his peers did not."

Bellini also realized that his business acumen could benefit others. That's why he has actively volunteered to raise funds for a multitude of hospital, university and community organizations.

"In life, I find there's nothing more satisfying than helping others," says Bellini, who was recognized for contribution to society by being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000.

Now, determined to follow his second maxim, Bellini is helping McGill in a big way by giving $10 million of his personal fortune towards the construction of the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building at McGill.

"Francesco Bellini is my hero," says McGill's dean of science, Alan Shaver, adding Bellini could have donated his funds to a multitude of other institutions. "But he chose McGill because he has special dreams for this city, this province and this country."

"A new life sciences building will ensure that scientific advances are developed and will emerge in Quebec," says Bellini.

Though Bellini has moved away from research himself and now heads a new private company, Picchio International Inc., he stresses his donation also recognizes the critical role McGill researchers have played in his past endeavors. What's more, he hopes his gift enables McGill students and researchers to continue being at the forefront of health and science research.

It's a vested interest, Bellini admits, since he'd like his children with wife Marisa to stay in Montreal. His son, Roberto, is a 22-year-old McGill biochemistry student and Carlo is 18 and plans to apply to the same program.

More than anything, Bellini hopes McGill's new life sciences building will spawn breakthroughs. "My hope is that major discoveries will be made in this new research building," he says. "That would be the biggest reward."

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