Cancer quietly claims researcher who put his work before his own life

  •, Hindustan Times, Canada
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2015 00:23 IST

Richmond’s Dr. Jasbinder Sanghera dedicated his life to cancer research. Born in India and raised in the U.K., he got his PhD in biochemistry at the University of Alberta before moving to Richmond, where he helped lead biotechnology research and development in B.C. and across Canada.

In 2004 he co-founded SignalChem Pharmaceuticals and its subsequent drug-discovery company SignalChem Lifesciences Corp in 2012, where he researched less aggressive cancer treatments in quest of an alternative to chemotherapy. His first drug went to clinical trials in October 2014.

Sadly, Sanghera won’t see his life’s work progress. In 2013, the scientist was diagnosed with colon cancer, and although he underwent surgery and treatment, the cancer soon spread to his brain and he died on Monday. He was 55.

“He was out there trying to find a cure for cancer and, you know, the irony of it is that he was battling it himself,” his sister Pam Natt told Vancouver Desi on Thursday.

According to Natt, Sanghera kept his diagnosis quiet. “He put that aside and kept working,” she said. “He put his work and career before his own life.”

By October 2014, while battling cancer, he expanded his life sciences company to Bangalore, where the opening ceremony was attended by former Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk, as it was included in Premier Christy Clark’s trade mission to India last fall.

“I was very saddened to hear the news,” Clark said in a statement to Vancouver Desi about Sanghera’s passing. “Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Sanghera worked tirelessly to improve the lives of countless individuals. His work in cancer research was at the cutting edge here in Canada and abroad.”

“British Columbia has lost a great citizen and innovator who dedicated his career to saving lives.”

Sanghera was also a devoted family and community man, said Natt, who lives in California but made an effort to visit her brother at least 10 times a year.

“We just lost our rock,” she said. “He was always that type of person that you could turn to.”

“(He was) not only close to me, he’s close to his whole family — my children. Not just us — the whole community.”

The beloved scientist, father, husband and brother will forever be remembered for his positive and “jolly” spirit and his innate ability to always match his turban to his shirt, said daughter-in-law Amanjit Gill-Sanghera.

While he spent many hours at the office in search of a cure for cancer, he spent equally as much time with family, by catching up at home after a long day at the office, or by organizing annual family picnics every summer.

According to Gill-Sanghera, he also donated to and got involved in local causes and charities. “He just didn’t know how to say no,” she said.

According to Natt, Sanghera was also a devout Sikh, often referred to as “the swami,” as his faith never wavered.

“Sometimes science and religion don’t go together, but he maintained the science and faith,” said Natt.

“He never questioned God or why this was happening (to him),” added Gill-Sanghera, recalling how every morning — even when sick — he’d first go to the family’s prayer room before starting his day. “He would think positive in everything.”

Although devastated by the loss, Sanghera’s family plans to “continue his legacy” by following through with SignalChem’s clinical trials and hopefully naming one of its successful cancer-fighting drugs after the scientist himself, said Natt.

Sanghera leaves behind his wife and three children, a daughter-in-law, his sister, brother, mother, future son-in-law and two pets. His funeral service will be held at Riverside Funeral Home and Crematorium on Sunday at 11 a.m.

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