NEWS
12/16/2017 08:46 EST | Updated 12/16/2017 09:01 EST

Autopsies underway for pharmaceutical billionaires found dead in their home

Toronto police say autopsies are being performed on Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife but note that they're still in the early stages of the investigation into the deaths.

The billionaires and philanthropists were found dead in their Toronto mansion on Friday under circumstances that police described as suspicious.

Const. David Hopkinson says autopsies on the two bodies are being performed on Saturday, adding results may be available later in the day.

Hopkinson declined to officially identify the victims, but statements from Apotex and politicians across the country on Friday named the Shermans as the deceased.

Apotex described their deaths as shocking and tragic, while other statements praised the Shermans' numerous philanthropic efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau were among those to offer a tribute to the couple through social media.

"Sophie and I are saddened by news of the sudden passing of Barry and Honey Sherman," Trudeau said in a tweet. "Our condolences to their family & friends, and to everyone touched by their vision & spirit."

Police were called to the Shermans' home in an upscale neighbourhood of north Toronto just before noon on Friday in response to a "medical complaint."

They declined to say whether the bodies showed signs of trauma and did not provide details on the time or cause of death.

Police said homicide investigators are involved in the case, though the deaths have not officially been classified as homicides. They previously indicated that there were no signs of forced entry into the home and that they were not seeking any suspects.

Barry Sherman founded Toronto-based Apotex Inc. in 1974 with two employees and gradually turned it into the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company.

Along the way he amassed a vast fortune, recently estimated by Canadian Business magazine at $4.77 billion, making him the 15th richest person in the country.

Sherman faced legal action from family members alleging they had been cut out of the company over the years.

As a producer of more than 300 generic pharmaceutical products, 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. Those include manufacturing and research facilities concentrated in the Toronto area as well as in Winnipeg.

Filling more than 89 million prescriptions in a year and exporting to 115 countries, the privately held company says its worldwide sales exceed $2 billion a year.

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.

The Shermans were among Canada's most generous philanthropists and also organized funding of charitable causes through the Apotex Foundation. The couple made numerous multimillion-dollar donations to hospitals, schools and charities and had buildings named in their honour.

A University of Toronto website lists the Apotex Foundation and the Shermans as donors in the range of $10 million to $25 million during 1995 and 2003.

They also donated roughly $50 million to the United Jewish Appeal.

In a statement on the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto's website, the Shermans expressed their particular "obligation" to support the Jewish community.

"We are fortunate in being able to contribute," the couple is quoted as saying. "You can't take it with you, so the best alternative is to put it to good use while you are here."

The chair of the Sinai Health System's board said the Shermans' deaths was a big loss.

"Their visible leadership on our hospital and foundation board of directors was infused with warmth, passion and a fierce intelligence," Brent Belzberg said in a statement. "Their loss will be felt by our organization, our community, and our country."

Apotex called news of the deaths "tragic."

"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," the company said in a statement.

The address where the bodies were found was recently listed for sale for $6.9 million. Neighbours confirmed that the property was the couple's home.