Andrew Lyall (Drew), founding President and CEO of BioCanRx, died this weekend, after he, his family and physicians waged a long fight against melanoma. He was 49.
Drew’s influence on health research, especially the biomedical world of stem cell research, was strong and unmistakable – extraordinary because he was not a scientist. Drew’s strength was building productive relationships. During his tenure with the Stem Cell Network (another Network of Centres of Excellence), his leadership brought together many people from across the world as the seeds and promise of stem cell research began to take hold. (For more on this, and Drew as a person, please read this lovely tribute written by Joe Sornberger at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.)
When Drew was approached to head up BioCanRx, his talents, experience, history with cancer and passion for medical research compelled him to leave his job as Director of Partnerships at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and take the reins of the fledgling Network of Centres of Excellence that was announced in December 2014.
As he put it on that occasion, “Sometimes things are just meant to be, and I was proud and humbled to be asked by John [Bell] and Ken [Newport, Board Chair] to leverage that experience and take on the CEO role with BioCanRx.”
His vision and knowledge have helped establish a strong foundation for BioCanRx.
“Although Drew was with BioCanRx for a relatively short time, he had a tremendously positive impact in getting us launched and will be sorely missed by all of us,” said Dr. John Bell, Scientific Director of BioCanRx, Senior Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor at uOttawa.
“We are devastated for his family and friends. And, in a way, we feel the same for the field of cancer immunotherapeutics; he had so much more to give. Sadly, we can now only imagine what he might have accomplished for cancer research and patients, knowing the tremendous impact he had in the world of stem cell research,” added Dr. Bell.
When Dr. Michael Rudnicki, who worked with Drew for years at the Stem Cell Network, was asked what he wanted people to know about Drew, aside from his professional achievements, he said simply, “A loyal and true friend. Honest and transparent. Not a devious bone in his body, as well as incredibly competent and smart.”
As one of his last acts, Drew set up a fund through the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation to support the work of BioCanRx. He and his family have asked that contributions in his honour be made to the Drew Lyall Legacy Fund.
Drew leaves behind his wife, Suzanne, and two children, Heather and Matthew.