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Queen's Remembers Professor Emeritus Walter A. Szarek

Photo: The late Emeritus Professor Walter SzarekThe Department of Chemistry at Queen’s University is saddened to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Walter A. Szarek on February 6th, 2021, at the age of 82. Dr. Szarek was one of Canada’s leading carbohydrate and medicinal chemists. Despite his fame, Dr. Szarek was a humble, warm, and approachable person. He was also an outstanding colleague, always willing to go the extra mile for his Department, colleagues, and students.

Dr. Szarek received his BSc and MSc degrees from McMaster University (the latter with D.B. MacLean), followed by a PhD from Queen’s University in organic and carbohydrate chemistry, with J.K.N. Jones as his supervisor. Following postdoctoral work at Ohio State University with M.L. Wolfrom, Dr. Szarek began his independent career as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Rutgers University. Dr. Szarek returned to the Department of Chemistry at Queen’s University in 1967 and became a Full Professor in 1976. He was appointed Professor Emeritus in 2003 and maintained an active research program until very recently.

Dr. Szarek blazed a path in the fields of carbohydrate and medicinal chemistry. He is the author of over 350 publications and 30 patents, the latter covering drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, malaria, bacterial infection, and pain. His innovations led to successful drugs such as KiactaTM, for treatment of renal amyloidosis; AlzhemedTM for treatment of Alzheimer’s, and the nutraceutical VIVIMIND™, for alleviating memory decline. His research led to the establishment of Neurochem, which was renamed BELLUS Health Inc. in 2008, and Neuroceptor Inc., which merged with Antalium Inc. to become PainCeptor. Among his research awards are the American Chemical Society’s Claude S. Hudson Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry and the Melville L. Wolfrom Award of the Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry of the American Chemical Society.

His contributions had a lasting impact on the Canadian carbohydrate chemistry and chemical biology community. Renowned glycobiologist Prof. Stephen Withers, a Canada Research Chair in Chemical Biology at UBC, says of Dr. Szarek, “Walter Szarek’s quiet and kind approach belied his substantial impact on carbohydrate science. In my early career, on several occasions, when I thought I had a great new idea, I would find that Walter had done that very thing a decade before! He will be missed.”

During his distinguished academic career, Dr. Szarek also served as Director of the Carbohydrate Research Institute at Queen’s (1976 to 1985) and was a member of several scientific advisory and review boards, including PanCeptor Pharma Corporation, Osta Biotechnologies Inc., and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

Dr. Szarek also led a distinguished teaching career at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, counting the eminent chemical biologist B. Mario Pinto (Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University, Australia) as his first graduate student. He has won numerous awards for his teaching, a level of excellence that continued to his last years in front of a class, when Walter won the graduating class teaching award two years in a row.

The Walter A. Szarek endowed lectureship series was established in 2018 to celebrate his accomplishments, with the inaugural lecture delivered by Walter’s life-long friend, and Nobel prize winner, Sir Fraser Stoddart.

Walter will be sorely missed.