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Prof. Dr.

Brett B. Finlay

Year of election: 2012
Section: Microbiology and Immunology
City: Vancouver
Country: Canada
CV Brett B. Finlay - Deutsch (PDF)
CV Brett B. Finlay - English (pdf)


Main areas of research: adhesion of E. coli to host cells, intracellular behaviour of salmonella, interplay of the innate immune response and bacterial interactions, the role of human microbiomes

Brett B. Finlay is a Canadian biochemist and microbiologist. He researches the molecular mechanisms of bacterial infections, mainly Salmonella and Escherichia coli, and analyses the significance of individual “microbiomes” for human health. Finlay is actively involved in the development of vaccines and medicines in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies.

In 1997 he was able to establish that Escherichia coli 0157:H7, the most important enterohemorrhagic E. coli serotype in terms of public health, creates its own receptor and injects it into its host-cell in order to subsequently attach itself to the suitable proteins of their cell membranes. In doing so, the bacterium itself is able to smooth its way into its host-cell in the human stomach or intestinal tract.

With his intense research on the interactions between pathogenic bacteria and their host-cells Finlay became one of the pioneers of “Cellular Microbiology”, a new field of research that uses cell biology methods in order to better understand the pathogenicity of microorganisms while simultaneously gaining greater cognizance of the functionalities of the their host-cells.

Finlay is constantly looking for ways in which the findings from basic research can be practically applied. That there is a need for action in the case of EHEC infections became apparent during a tragedy in Walkerton Ontario in the year 2000 when six people died and thousands drowned as a result of water contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7. Finlay came up with the innovative idea of directing the preventive measures against EHEC infections towards the animals that transmit such pathogens instead of trying to protect humans directly. Working together with the Canadian vaccine expert Andy Potter from the University of Saskatchewan he developed the first vaccine against E.coli 0157:H7 in cows.

Finlay has always tried to look beyond the boundaries of his own area of expertise. He accordingly makes every effort to bring representatives from the fields of science, industry and government together for collaborative discussions. In reaction to the worldwide SARS epidemic in which 251 Canadians became sick and 41 died, Finlay organized the „SARS Accelerated Vaccine Initiative“ with the single goal of developing a vaccine against the triggering virus (SARS-CoV) in the shortest possible amount of time. Three prototypes were subsequently produced within half a year; after one year one of those proved to be effective in animal models. The initiative served as a model for dealing with newly emerging diseases and gained worldwide recognition.

Later Finlay was instrumental in the founding of the „Canadian Coalition for Safe Food and Water“, an initiative for improving the safety of food and drinking water that also addressed the problems of anti-bacterial resistance and bioterrorism. His diversified activities made him a leading figure in the Canadian health care sector and resulted in his being elected as an officer of the „Order of Canada“ and in his being admitted into the „Order of British Columbia“.

In his role as inventor, Finlay is a party to various patents held by his university. In his role as cofounder or scientific advisor at numerous pharmaceutical companies he is also involved in the development of new medicines. Most recently he has once again shifted his frame of reference – away from pathogenic bacteria like Escherichia coli or Salmonella and into the realm of the trillion bacteria that comprise the human “microbiome”. The discovery of four types of intestinal bacteria that protect against asthma in children strengthened Brett Finlay’s´ belief that key factors for human health can be found in the human microbiome.


  • 2010 Scientific Cofounder of Vedanta Biosciences in Boston, USA
  • since 2002 Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada
  • 2001 Cofounder of Inimex Pharmaceuticals in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, as Spin-Off-Company of the UBC
  • 1996 Tenured professor at the department for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Microbiology and Immunology at UBC, Canada
  • 1994 Extraordinary professor at the departments of Microbiology and Immunology at UBC, Canada
  • 1989 Assistant professor at the laboratorium for Biotechnology der UBC, Canada
  • 1986 - 1989 Postdoc at the department for medical Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, USA
  • 1986 Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada
  • Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada


  • 2014 - 2015 Member at the directorate of BCCDC Foundation for Public Health
  • 2006 - 2013 Member at the Governing Council of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
  • since 2003 Director of the Canadian SARS Accelerated Vaccine Initiative


  • 2010 Project „Impact of the Microbiota on Immune Development and Disease - The Role of the Gastrointestinal Microbiota in Asthma“ within the „Canadian Microbiome Initiative“
  • 2005 - 2009 Cooperation at the DFG-Project „Innate immune responses of mast cells during Salmonella and Escherichia infections“
  • 2005 Project „Functional genomics for emerging infectious diseases“ within PREPARE („Proteomics for Emerging Pathogen Response“) from Genome Canada
  • 2005 Project „Novel Therapeutics That Boost Innate Immunity to Treat Infectious Diseases” “ within the Initiative „Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH)“ of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • 2004 E.coli Operating Grant of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Honours and Memberships

  • 2014 Prix Galien Canada
  • 2013 Genome British Columbia Award for Scientific Excellence
  • since 2012 Member of the Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina
  • 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • 2012 Honorary member of the canadian Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease (AMMI)
  • 2011 Chair d'État am Collège de France in Paris, France
  • 2009 Roche Diagnostics Award der Canadian Society of Microbiologists
  • 2007 Member of the Order of British Columbia
  • 2006 Flavelle Medal of the Royal Society of Canada
  • 2006 Officer of the Order of Canada
  • 2006 Killam Prize of the Canada Council for the Arts
  • 2005 Jacob Biely Faculty Research Prize of the University of British Columbia
  • 2005 Partnership Award from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for the „Sars Accelerated Vaccine Initiative“ (SAVI)
  • 2005 Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences
  • 2004 Solutions through Research Award, British Columbia Innovation Council
  • 2004 Squibb Award der Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)
  • 2004 Michael Smith Prize in Health Research
  • 2003 National Merit Award, Ottawa Life Sciences Council
  • since 2003 Member of the American Academy of Microbiology
  • 2003 British Columbia (BC) Biotechnology Award for Innovation and Achievement
  • 2001 CIHR Distinguished Investigator Award
  • 2001 Fellow der Royal Society of Canada
  • 1998 E. W. R. Steacie Prize
  • 1996 MRC Scientist Award (Medical Research Council, Canada)
  • 1993 Killam Research Prize of the University of British Columbia
  • 1991 - 2010 International Research Scholar des Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • 1991 Fisher Scientific Award der Canadian Society of Microbiologists (CSM)
  • 1989 Member of the Canadian Centers of Excellence for Bacterial Diseases




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