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Apotex founder Barry Sherman, wife found dead in North York home

Last Updated Dec 15, 2017 at 11:27 pm EST

Toronto billionaire and philanthropist Barry Sherman and his wife were found dead in their mansion Friday, and police said they were investigating the deaths as suspicious.

“We’ve been informed of the tragic news that Barry and Honey Sherman have unexpectedly passed away,” Apotex said in a statement on Twitter.

“All of us at Apotex are deeply shocked and saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time.”

Toronto police said they got a 911 call around 11:45 a.m. about a medical incident at a house on Old Colony Road, near Highway 401 and Bayview Avenue, and found the bodies there.

Const. David Hopkinson said police are treating the deaths as suspicious until they learn more from the pathologist and coroner. He said homicide detectives are not yet involved.

Hopkinson didn’t reveal any details about the time or cause of death and whether there was any trauma.

“There may be suspicious circumstances. It’s an investigative tool,” he said. “Until we know exactly how they died, we treat it as suspicious. Once a determination has been made by the pathologist and the coroner, then we move forward from there.”

Police said later Friday evening that they are not currently seeking any suspects but are keeping an open mind on all possibilities.

“We did not observe any signs of forced entry into the building and so at this point indications are that we have no outstanding suspect to be going after,”‘ Det. Brandon Price told reporters.

“We will be getting a lot more answers tomorrow (Saturday) following the post-mortem examinations.”

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins sent a tweet expressing shock at the death of his “dear friends,” who he described as “wonderful human beings.”

In a statement Friday night, Hoskins added that the Shermans will be deeply missed.

“They were generous philanthropists, kind and compassionate individuals, devoted to their family, their friends, their community, this province and this country,” he said. “Their leadership and investments in health care leave a legacy we are all better for.”

“It’s heartbreaking — It’s shocking, just knowing who they were,” said Sarah Alvi, who has lived across from the Shermans for five years. “It wouldn’t come to your mind at all. You would never think something like this is going to happen there.”

The house, where the Shermans live, was recently put on the market for just shy of $7 million.

“We just saw them about two weeks ago,” Alvi said. “They had an open house, lovely couple … They were very courteous. Honey is a sweetheart … She was just a lovely person. It’s so sad that something like this has happened.”

Sherman, 75, founded the generic drugmaker Apotex in 1974 with two employees after buying the company — previously Empire Laboratories — from his uncle. It went on to become the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company.

Along the way he amassed a vast fortune, which Canadian Business magazine estimated at $4.77 billion to make him the 15th richest Canadian, and was the target of lawsuits from family members who alleged they got cut out of a share of the company.

As a producer of more than 300 generic pharmaceutical products that exports to over 115 countries, Apotex has itself seen a fair number of litigation issues, as companies have pushed back on its efforts to sell cheaper no-name options.

One of the most high-profile of those clashes occurred when pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb sued Apotex in 2006 to try and stop it from selling the first generic form of the heart-disease treatment Plavix.

Today, the company has more than 10,000 people in research, development, manufacturing and distribution facilities world-wide, with more than 6,000 employees at its Canadian operations. The company’s Canadian operations include manufacturing and research facilities concentrated in the Toronto area as well as in Winnipeg.

Filling more than 89 million prescriptions in a year, the privately held company says its worldwide sales exceed $2 billion a year.

Sherman has also been an active philanthropist, including donating $50 million to the United Jewish Appeal. He had also become an active fundraiser for the Liberal party in recent years, but was criticized for holding a pay-for-access fundraiser in August 2015 that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while being registered as a lobbyist.

Sherman’s wife, Honey, was a member of the board of the Baycrest Foundation and the York University Foundation. She also served on the boards of Mount Sinai’s Women’s Auxiliary, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the International American Joint Distribution Committee.

With files from The Canadian Press

Apotex Chairman and CEO Barry Sherman. GETTY IMAGES/The Toronto Star/Dick Loek
A Toronto police vehicle is seen outside the home of Apotex chairman Barry Sherman after two people were found dead on Dec. 15, 2017. CITYNEWS/Ken Townsend
A Toronto police vehicle is seen outside the home of Apotex chairman Barry Sherman after two people were found dead on Dec. 15, 2017. CITYNEWS/Ken Townsend