Leslie Dan arrived alone in Canada on November 15, 1947 as an eighteen-year-old immigrant from war-torn Hungary. He stayed in Toronto with the intention of entering the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, at the time the only pharmacy school in Ontario.
To obtain a Canadian high-school diploma, Dr. Dan supported himself by working as a busboy at the Silver Rail restaurant in the evenings, while working toward his diploma during the day. In the summers, he worked in lumber camps and as a waiter at summer resorts in Muskoka and in the Laurentian mountains. He gained admission to U of T’s Faculty of Pharmacy in 1950 and earned his BSc Pharm in 1954. Five years later, he completed a Master of Business Administration degree, also from U of T.
A born entrepreneur, Dr. Dan started both a pharmaceutical distribution business and an export company immediately after graduation. In 1965, he founded Novopharm Ltd. to provide the public with less expensive “generic” medications. Novopharm went on to become one of Canada’s largest generic pharmaceutical companies, with sales of $750 million and three thousand employees operating eight large manufacturing facilities in three countries. To assure its successful growth on a global scale, the company became part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ multinational operations in 2000.
Rather than retiring, Dr. Dan then concentrated his activities on the development of anti-cancer products. He applied his skills as a pharmacist and experience as a drug manufacturer to this pursuit over many years. In 2012, his efforts led to Viventia Biotherapeutics Inc., a company he fully owned and financed. Viventia Bio successfully built various anti-cancer drug-development programs; its main product, Vicinium, is a promising treatment for bladder cancer and is currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials. However, the costs of drug development became too great for a single individual and in 2016 Viventia was sold and is now a subsidiary of Eleven Biotherapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: EBIO). Dr. Dan continues to support this work as a member of Eleven Bio’s Board of Directors.
Having come from a financially modest family, Leslie Dan realizes the importance of helping less fortunate individuals and society at large. Every year he supports numerous charitable organizations. Notable among these is the Canadian Medicine Aid Program, which Dr. Dan founded in 1985. CAN-MAP donates two to three million dollars’ worth of medicines each year for the treatment of sick and needy patients in developing countries, distributed for free by visiting doctors, nurses and various charitable organizations. To date, CAN-MAP has donated medications valued at more than fifty million dollars. Dr. Dan is also a very generous benefactor of the University of Toronto and its Faculty of Pharmacy and the pharmacy building itself are named after him.
Among his many accolades, Dr. Dan has been recognized with an appointment to the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. He has also received five honorary doctorates from the universities of British Columbia, Dalhousie, Toronto, and York.