After obtaining his MD and PhD (endocrinology) degrees with Honours at Laval University, Quebec City, Canada, Fernand Labrie pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Cambridge, UK, first in the Laboratory of Professor Asher Korner, a leader in molecular biology of steroid action and later, in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Professor Frederick Sanger, twice Nobel laureate in medicine for the first amino acid sequencing of a protein (insulin, 1958) and then first nucleotide sequencing of a DNA (1980). Professor Labrie then isolated the first mammalian messenger RNA (rabbit hemoglobin) and achieved its partial nucleotide sequence.
Upon returning to Laval University in 1969, he founded the first Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology that became one of the most important research groups in endocrinology in the world with a total personnel of up to 350 people including 32 senior scientists. Between 1982 and 2008, he was scientific director of the CHUL (Centre Hospitalier de l’Université Laval) Research Center (1200 employees) and, at a time, the largest medical research Institute in Canada. From 1990 to 2002, Professor Labrie has been head of the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at the Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, while, between 1992 and 1995, he was president of the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec, the granting agency for health research in the province of Quebec.
A major contribution of Professor Labrie to clinical medicine has been the discovery and development of medical castration with GnRH (Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone) agonists which replaced surgical castration worldwide. This achievement was soon followed by the discovery and development of Combined Androgen Blockade (CAB), the first treatment shown to prolong life in prostate cancer. Medical castration with GnRH agonists and combined androgen blockade have become the standard hormonal therapy of prostate cancer worldwide. This has been the first combination of drugs approved by Health Authorities, namely by Health Canada in 1984 and by the US FDA in 1989. This discovery is at the basis of the recent successful pharmaceutical development of enzalutamide and abiraterone acetate to achieve blockade of the action and formation, respectively, of the androgens made locally in the prostate in castration-resistant prostate cancer.
More recently, Professor Labrie discovered that a large proportion of androgens and estrogens in women (100% after menopause) and men are made in peripheral tissues from the inactive precursor dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) by the mechanisms of intracrinology. DHEA is transformed locally and intracellularly into small amounts of androgens and estrogens according to the local needs. These sex steroids are inactivated locally, thus preventing biologically significant release of the active sex steroids in the circulation, with potentially negative systemic effects. Professor Labrie and his group also discovered and developed the most potent and specific antiestrogen, namely acolbifene, a compound having exclusively estrogen blocking activity in the human breast and uterus.
Professor Labrie's research findings are described in more than 1340 scientific publications and have been cited more than 50,000 times. Dr. Labrie is the most cited Canadian scientist among all disciplines in the international literature. He received the King Faisal International Prize in medicine and numerous other awards, including the Friesen Award of the Canadian Society of Clinical Investigation, the Hoffenberg International Medal Award of the Society for Endocrinology of the United Kingdom in 2013 and is Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universities of Caen and Athens.
The Dr. Fernand Labrie Fellowships of the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism are awarded annually in his honor. In addition, starting in 2014, an annual Fernand Labrie Fellowship is awarded by the Laval University Research Center in Molecular Endocrinology, Oncology and Human Genomics.