Trailblazing HIV/AIDS researcher Mark Wainberg dies

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Mark Wainberg, a trailblazing AIDS researcher who discovered one of the first antiviral drugs, has died in a swimming accident aged 71.

In 1989, the Canadian pioneer played a large part in identifying the antiviral drug 3TC, or Lamivudine, which is used with other medications to treat the infections caused by HIV.

At the time of his death, he was director of the AIDS Centre at McGill University, where he was also a professor in microbiology and immunology, medicine and paediatrics.

Wainberg, who also the lead investigator at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital, died on Tuesday while swimming in rough waters in Florida.

Police confirmed his death yesterday.

Acting police chief Miguel De La Rosa said Wainberg’s family was with him, and that his son had tried to rescue him.

“The son swam out to where he had seen his dad, was able to locate him and began to swim back to shore with him,” said the acting police chief.

“Other beach-goers went into the water and assisted him in bringing him onto the shore.”

By the time officers arrived, Wainberg was already on the shore, said De La Rosa.

He was driven to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Tributes have poured in for the groundbreaking researcher.

The Canadian Association for HIV Research, of which Wainberg was president, praised him as “a mentor to many.

“His ongoing commitment to the cause will be sorely missed.”

Dr Cécile Tremblay, a specialist in infectious diseases at Montreal University and a researcher at the CHUM Research Centre, said Wainberg had mentored her for 25 years, ever since she was a medical student.

“Before I started my med school, as my career revolved around HIV research, I was collaborating closely with him,” she told CBC News.

“He was a leader in our field and he was a mentor. His loss is very significant for me.”

She called Wainberg “a pioneer in the fight against HIV.

“[He] was instrumental in shaping how we use these drugs nowadays, so that they have become so much more efficient than what they were in the past,” she said.

“Patients are better off because of the work he has done in his career.”

Dr Réjean Thomas, the co-founder and chief executive of Clinique Médicale L’Actuel, which tests and treats STIs, also paid tribute.

Dr Thomas, who worked with Wainberg for more than 30 years, told CBC News: “There were many discoveries related to Dr. Wainberg, but not only discoveries; he was a leader – an international leader.”