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Melbourne receives A$250m to set up pandemic research centre

Image: Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Philanthropic donation could help “transform the management of future pandemics”

The University of Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity is to set up a pandemic research centre with a A$250 million philanthropic donation.

The donation, from Geoffrey and Anna Cumming (pictured, centre, at the announcement), is “the largest philanthropic donation to medical research” in Australia’s history, according to the Doherty institute.

The Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics is expected to employ around 200 researchers and support staff, working on therapeutics for diseases that can cause pandemics. After 2027, it will move to the Australian Institute for Infectious Diseases when that facility opens. It will also receive A$75m from the Victorian government over 10 years.

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell said the centre would “pursue an ambitious research programme focusing on treatments that can be rapidly adapted after a new pathogen is identified, with the intention of transforming the management of future pandemics”.

Canadian-born Geoffrey Cumming is a citizen of Canada and New Zealand but lives in Melbourne. He is chair of the New Zealand-based investment firm Karori Capital and has previously donated large amounts to medical research in Canada.

Transformational donation

Doherty director Sharon Lewin said in a statement that the Melbourne donation would be “transformational”.

“Innovation in anti-pathogen therapeutics has lagged in comparison to vaccines, with A$137 billion publicly invested globally in vaccines compared to just A$7bn in therapeutics during the first 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

In the same statement, Geoffrey Cumming said the centre was “conceived as a long-term initiative to provide greater protection for global society against future pandemics. It will attract top researchers and scientists from Australia and around the world, on long-term contracts, in a collaborative medical research effort which is designed to enhance global resiliency.”

He added: “The scale and enduring nature of medical research investment by successive Victorian governments, the breadth of the talent pool in the ecosystem of the medical research precinct in Melbourne, the collegiality of all the players, together with the success of Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic, were key reasons for locating the centre in Melbourne.”

The Victorian government’s health and medical research strategy, launched in July, emphasises workforce development, infrastructure, new discoveries and “groundbreaking research with significant health and commercial potential”.

Healthcare issues are emerging as a factor in the upcoming November state election.