1997 INDUCTEE Charles Beer, PhD Cancer, Cancer


November 18, 1915

(Leigh, Dorset, England)


June 15, 2010


PhD, Oxford University (1948)

Awards & Honours:

2003: Member of the Order of Canada

Picture of Charles Beer

Discovered vinblastine

Charles Beer

A pioneer in Canadian cancer treatment

Dr. Beer's major contribution to medicine was the isolation and purification of the anti-cancer drug "vinblastine." At the University of Western Ontario, he worked closely with Dr. Robert L. Noble to develop vinblastine from the leaves of the Madagascar periwinkle plant, Vinca Rosea. Vinblastine is one of the most useful chemotherapeutic agents available and its isolation is considered to be a milestone in the history of cancer chemotherapy, particularly for the management of Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer. 

Dr. Beer and Dr. Robert Noble were jointly nominated and inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Key Facts

While at Oxford, worked with Sir Robert Robinson, one of the most distinguished organic chemists in the world

His biochemical expertise was crucial to the discovery of vinblastine

Vinblastine was the first major Canadian breakthrough in cancer chemotherapy

Was an avid mountaineer

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Vinblastine remains as one of the most useful chemotherapy agents and is used in conjunction with other drugs to treat various forms of cancer including non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, and breast, bladder, brain and testicular cancers. A primary treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, it is also used for histiocytosis, a group of rare diseases which present as significantly increased in histiocytes immune cells.  

Picture of Charles Beer


  • Dr. Charles Beer

    Charles Beer inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    London, Ontario

  • After his retirement, Beer became a Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia

    He also became an honorary Senior Scientist in the Department of Cancer Endocrinology at the BC Cancer Agency.

  • Beer began a distinguished career in research and teaching at the University of British Columbia

    He became a Professor of biochemistry and continued his reputation for innovative biochemical cancer research. His focus included studying the role of prolactin in cancers of lymphoid origins.

  • The purification process was patented in the name of Drs. Beer, Noble and doctoral student Dr. J.H. Cutts

    The drug was made widely available in partnership with the university and the Eli Lilly Company, significantly impacting the lives and treatment of millions of cancer patients worldwide.

  • Beer and Noble

    Beer and Nobel successfully isolated “vinblastine”


    Not only did vinblastine set a significant milestone in the development of cancer chemotherapy, it was the most effective treatment available for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

  • Periwinkle plant

    Beer arrived at Dr. Noble’s laboratory at the Collip Medical Research Laboratory at The University of Western Ontario

    Dr. Robert Noble had been testing an extract derived from the leaves of a Madagascar periwinkle plant, Vinca Rosea.

  • Beer moved to the United States

    He became a research fellow at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York City.

  • Noble’s research focused on potential anti-diabetic properties of the periwinkle plant extract, however, it was found to have little effect on the blood sugar levels of experimental rats

    Laboratory technologist Halina Czajkowska observed that the extract destroyed the rats’ white blood cells and bone marrow. This finding raised the possibility that the extract could be used to treat leukemia, a cancer characterized by high counts of abnormal white blood cells.

  • After graduating from Oxford, Beer moved to London

    At the Courtauld Institute of Biochemistry, he studied the effects of antifolic drugs.

  • Immediately following the Second World War, Beer was awarded a fellowship by the Royal Institute of Chemistry to pursue doctoral research

    He received his DPhil in Chemistry from Oxford University in 1948.


He was a brilliant young man dedicated to combatting cancer.