GLUSKIN firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2002-12-11 published
Canadian biotech entrepreneur understood pain
By Allison LAWLOR Wednesday, December 11, 2002 -- Page R9
Mark PERRI, a Toronto businessman who founded a biotechnology company that is developing new ways to deliver insulin and morphine has died after a 10-year battle with bone cancer. He was 41.
Toronto-based Generex Biotechnology Corp. was Mark's baby, said his younger sister Rose PERRI. He founded the company with his sister and close friend Anna GLUSKIN, with the goal of replacing drugs, such as insulin, that are normally injected into the bloodstream with a new technology that allows it, instead, be to sprayed into the mouth.
Mr. PERRI's interest in the biotech field, in large part, came from his own 10-year struggle with multiple myeloma (a malignant tumour of the bone marrow). Having been in remission for some time, his condition worsened in November, 2001, and he collapsed.
He spent the last year of his life in and out of hospital but still continued to keep a hand in the business, getting daily updates from his sister.
"He was the kind of man who had compassion and kindness for everyone," said Ms. GLUSKIN, the company's president and chief executive officer. "He worried so much about people."
While Mr. PERRI served as Generex's chairman and chief financial officer, his favourite part of the job was working with clinicians, seeing the products developed and hearing about the clinical trials.
About a year before he died, Mr. PERRI developed diabetes, induced by one of his medications. Forced to take several needle injections a week for diabetes and other conditions, he understood what millions of diabetics endured.
"Because of his own condition, he really loved to hear about the people who were on the clinical trials and hear how the patients were doing," said Pankaj MODI, Generex's vice-president of research and development.
Mr. MODI approached Mr. PERRI in the late 1990s. He had a patent on the insulin spray and needed someone to finance his research. They struck a pact. In the past two years, Generex has struck deals with U.S. drug giant Eli Lilly and Co. and British drug maker Elan Corp. to develop the oral insulin and morphine drugs.
Mr. PERRI's entrepreneurial spirit was bred in him, Rose PERRI said. "He always possessed a very determined and independent streak which lead him to be an entrepreneur," she said.
Elio Mark PERRI was born on Feb. 1, 1961, in Toronto, the eldest of two children to Antonio and Concetta PERRI. The couple met and were engaged in Italy before setting out for Canada in the late 1950s to start a new life together. Antonio worked as a construction labourer before starting his own building company.
While Antonio had an entrepreneurial spirit he would pass onto his son, he stressed the need for him to get a good education.
After high school, Mr. PERRI heeded his father's advice and set off for the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, where he graduated with a history degree in 1984. He went on to receive his masters in legal studies at the University of Toronto in It was while he was at the University of Waterloo that he started developing back pains and was bedridden for several weeks. At the time, his doctors didn't know what was causing his discomfort. Years later, at the age of 31, doctors diagnosed him with multiple myeloma. He learned then that he had been living with the painful symptoms since the age of 19.
After graduating from the University of Toronto, he worked as a stockbroker, having received his licence on Black Monday, the day the market crashed in 1987. The bad timing didn't deter him though, Rose said.
An introduction to a scientist working at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children changed the direction of his career. The man, whose sister was dying, asked Mr. PERRI to review her portfolio. Pleased with how he handled the account, the scientist asked Mr. PERRI to privately finance his own research project. Over the next few years, he went on to finance several biotech projects.
In 1995, Mr. PERRI, his sister and Ms. GLUSKIN started Generex with the goal of developing pharmaceutical products and drug delivery technologies. The company literally started around Mr. PERRI's hospital bed. Having lost four vertebrae due to his weakened bones, he underwent a bone marrow transplant.
"He never complained," Rose said, adding that, despite his painful illness, he maintained a positive outlook on life and an interest and concern for others.
"He was quiet but he was always able to make people laugh. He felt that was important."
Outside of Generex, Mr. PERRI continued to find ways to help others. In 1996, he started donating money to a downtown Toronto drug-addiction centre called the Canterbury Clinic. In recognition, the clinic has been renamed the Canterbury/Elio Mark Perri Memorial Clinic.
Through his generosity, which Ms. GLUSKIN said was in the six digits, the clinic has been able to keep its doors open. Close to 100 people are being treated there for everything from Human Immunodeficiency Virus to drug and alcohol addictions.
Despite his financial support, Mr. PERRI never sought favours, recognition or a seat on the clinic's board, said the clinic's director Michael McCRIMMON.
"He didn't like the spotlight," Rose said. "He liked to be in the background."
Mark PERRI, entrepreneur; born in Toronto on Feb. 1, 1961; died in Toronto on Nov. 6, 2002.
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