Masad José Damha was born in and raised in Managua, Nicaragua and immigrated to Canada in 1978. He attended McGill University, completing a B.Sc. in Chemistry (’83) and then a Ph.D. (’87) in Organic Chemistry there with Professor Kelvin K. Ogilvie. His Ph.D. work focused on the synthesis and conformational analysis of nucleic acids (RNA). He was awarded an NSERC PDF in 1987, but declined the honor in favor of an Assistant Professorship at the University of Toronto’s Erindale College (UTM). In 1992, he returned to his Alma Mater, where as James McGill Professor of Chemistry, he is working in the field of bio-organic and bio-medicinal nucleic acid chemistry. His research is bearing fruit in the development of new therapeutic drugs based on protein and RNA targeting. With his students, he has authored more than 170 publications, and filed/received several patents worldwide.
In 1999, Professor Damha co-founded Anagenis, Inc. – a start up company with proprietary antisense technologies. Anagenis was formed to assess and develop arabinonucleic acids chemistry against several biological targets, including cancer and a number of infectious diseases. In 2005, Anagenis, Inc. was acquired by Topigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a Montreal-based biotechnology company that discovered antisense compounds for the treatment of respiratory diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and allergic rhinitis. Currently, Prof. Damha’s FANA technology is exclusively licensed to AUM LifeTech, whereas his RNA ‘chip’ (microarray) chemistries are being commercialized by ChemGenes Coorporation.
Prof. Damha is Chair of the Department of Chemistry (2013-2018), and Vice-President Elect (2017-18) of the International Society of Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids (IS3NA). Recently, he served as President of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutic Society (2012-2014), as Treasurer of the IS3NA (2008-2016), as Associate Vice-Principal (Research & International Relations) at McGill (2010-2011), as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Chemistry (McGill; 2000-2010), and as Member and Chair of the NSERC Grant Selection Committee (GSC24; 2007-2009), He has hosted and/or organized of a number of conferences such as the International Roundtable on Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids (Montreal, 2012), OTS Conference (Montreal, 2016), Pacifichem (Honolulu, 2000-2015), the CSC (Montreal, 2001 and 2011), and the ACS (2007-2009). He has also served on the Editorial Board of the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry (1999-2003), the Accreditation Committee of the CIC (1999-2001), the Fellowship Committee of the CIC (2007-2011), and several Award Selection Committees of the Canadian Society for Chemistry.
Other honors include: The John Charles Polanyi Chemistry Prize (Ministry of Colleges and Universities, 1989), The IUPAC Award (Chemical Institute of Canada, 1991), Ichikizaki Awards for Young Chemist (1989-94), the Merck-Frosst Award for Therapeutic Research (CSC, 1999), the Fellowship of the Chemical Institute of Canada (F.C.I.C.), the James McGill Professorship (McGill University, 2004-2011), the Bernard Belleau Award of the CSC (2007), the Fessenden Professorship in Science Innovation (McGill University; 2010), the David Thomson Award in Graduate Supervision and Teaching (McGill University; 2010), the Leo Yaffe Award for Excellence in Teaching (McGill University; 2011-12), and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (The Governor General of Canada; 2012). He is a member of the Nicaraguan National Academy of Science.