High achievers honored in Research Australia Awards

November 26, 2010

A private philanthropist who has personally donated in excess of $60 million to health and medical research in the past few years and an Australian researcher who led the invention of a vaccine that could save 20,000 lives every year are among the award recipients to be honoured at the Research Australia Awards presentation last night.

The awards were presented at Government House in Sydney by the NSW Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO.

The Great Australian Philanthropy Award was awarded to Mr Greg Poche AO, for his astonishing generosity in support of health and medical research programs.

This has included a donation of $41 million to Sydney's Mater Hospital to establish a centre for research and treatment of melanoma, two separate $10 million donations to establish Centres for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney and the Flinders University, $1 million for research on indigenous eye health at Melbourne University and continuing donations of $700,000 per year to fund specialised training for doctors working to treat melanoma.

The Griffith University Discovery Award was awarded to Dr Mark Pearson for his ground-breaking work inventing and developing a vaccine against Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite that infects as many as 200 million people every year in developing countries.

Currently around 20,000 people die every year from these infections. The vaccine developed by Dr Pearson and his team will soon commence clinical trials and has the potential to save all these lives.

The Chair of Research Australia, Dr Christine Bennett, used the occasion of the ceremony to highlight the extraordinary quality of Australia's health and medical researchers and to call on governments, philanthropists and industry to further invest in this crucial work.

"These award recipients are outstanding, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. We have research talent in Australia of a calibre the equal of anywhere in the world," Dr Bennett said.

"Our research efforts in Australia, built up over a decade of funding growth provide a solid foundation to build further success by attracting researchers to Australia from overseas and to further build our reputation as a leading research nation."

Dr Bennett said comprehensive public opinion research commissioned recently by Research Australia showed extraordinary levels of public support for better funding of health and medical research* - 81 per cent ranked it very or extremely important.

"People rated it an issue of higher importance than refugee policy, carbon pollution reduction, reducing government debt and even economic management. It's a top order priority for the Australian public," Dr Bennett said.

"The research shows serious illnesses affect the majority of Australian families in one way or another. People feel very strongly the need to drive development of better treatments and cures.

"The work of health and medical researchers, saves lives, provides relief for the seriously ill, reduces the burden on our public health system and can make a huge economic contribution when medicines and products developed here are exported to the world.

"Investment in it makes medical, public health, humanitarian and economic sense. As a community comprising government, industry and as individuals, we have enormous opportunities to further develop our research capacity," Dr Bennett said.
(For detailed information on award recipients, see information sheet attached.)

Media Enquiries Contact: Rebecca James (+61) 0408 120 241

About Research Australia

Research Australia is a unique national alliance of over 190 member and donor organisations with a common mission to make health and medical research a higher national priority. For more information on Research Australia visit www.researchaustralia.org.

* The report 'Community Attitudes to Health and Medical Research' was researched and compiled by Auspoll for Research Australia in July 2010. It is available on Research Australia's website at: http://researchaustralia.org/publications/public-opinion-polls.html


Dr Mark S Pearson: Griffith University Discovery Award

Dr Mark Pearson started his postdoctoral work at QIMR and, in 2010, joined the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance at James Cook University. Dr Pearson's PhD project focused on the discovery and pre-clinical testing of a vaccine against the human blood fluke, Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite which infects 200 million people in developing countries of which 20,000 die each year. He jointly discovered what is widely considered the lead vaccine antigen for a human schistosomiasis vaccine. The vaccine was patented by QIMR (Dr Pearson is a named inventor) and has been transferred to the Sabin Vaccine Institute in the US who have raised philanthropic funds to take the vaccine through process development (almost complete) and into clinical trials beginning in 2011.

His postdoctoral work was also in the area of neglected tropical diseases and he joined the Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative (HHVI) to work on human hookworm vaccines. This vaccine, also patented by the Sabin Vaccine Institute with Dr Pearson as a named inventor, will enter human clinical trials in 2011 under the auspices of the HHVI and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

If either of the vaccines that Dr Pearson has developed prove efficacious in a human setting, his work will save many thousands of lives throughout the world's most disadvantaged communities.

Mr. Greg Poche AO: Macquarie Group Foundation Great Australian Philanthropy Award

In 2006, Mr Greg Poche made a donation of $41 million to the Mater Hospital, to establish a world-renowned facility to research and treat patients suffering from melanoma.

In addition, Mr Poche donates approx $700,000 per annum to the Melanoma Institute Australia, which includes a stipend for two Poche Fellows. This supports ongoing education and training for doctors in this specialised field of melanoma.

Mr. Poche has also funded the following University projects: The establishment of a Centre of Indigenous Health (also known as the Poche Centre) at the University of Sydney, with a donation of $10 million, the establishment of a Centre of Indigenous Health at Flinders University South Australia (also known as the Poche Centre), with a donation of $10 million and the establishment of a research project at the University of Melbourne, with a donation of $1 million.

Mr Li Cunxin: Research Australia Advocacy Award

Li Cunxin, international ballet dancer and best-selling autobiography of Mao's Last Dancer has been an active board member with the Bionic Ear Institute (BEI) for five years. In 2009, the autobiography was made into a film and Mr Cunxin provided the opportunity for the Bionic Ear Institute and The Australian Ballet to organise Mao's Last Dancer premiere events as a fundraiser with the profit of $347,145 to be shared between the two not for profit organisations. The BEI continues to sell autographed copies of Mao's Last Dancer with all proceeds going to the institute

Mr Cunxin's eldest daughter, Sophie, is a bilateral bionic ear recipient. Once she received her second cochlear implant, Mr Cunxin became involved with the organisation helping to raise community awareness about the benefits of health and medical research.

Since 2003 Mr Cunxin and his daughter have been strong advocates of medical bionics research. He has introduced many major giving donors to the institute who have donated to BEI research programs to develop hi-fidelity bionic ears.

In 2005 Mr Cunxin was involved in a fundraising literary luncheon promoting and selling his autobiography. Approximately 560 guests attended and $64,000 was raised.

Mr Cunxin has received the Shepherd Centre's 2009 Australian Father of the Year Award and has been Honoured a Doctorate for his contribution to Arts and Literature by the Australian Catholic University.

Professor John Funder AO: Pfizer Australia Leadership and Innovation Award

For over thirty years Professor John Funder AO has been a leader in medical research in Australia. In his science he has rewritten the pathophysiolology of adrenal steroid action in the cardiovascular system. He has been an innovator in publishing guidelines for the management of primary aldosteronism, and in translational research by levering off clinical studies to critically examine and recast what we believe about aldosterone, cortisol and mineralcorticol receptors.

In addition to this major scientific contribution, he has made very substantial contributions to research governance, representation, ethics, funding and translation nationally and internationally. He remains an intensely active thinker, passionately committed to medical research, its translation into healthcare, and to the importance of research and innovation to Australian society.

In his 'retirement' he has remained highly research active: in 2010, for example, he has given seven invited plenary lectures at International Congresses, recognition of his status in the field of hormones, hypertension and heart failure. Over the course of his career he has published over 500 peer reviewed scientific papers, of which 12 have been published/are in press in 2010.

Professor Colin Binns: Research Australia Lifetime Achievement Award

Professor Colin Binns has been a leader in health science research in Australia for more than 30 years.

After graduating in medicine in 1966, he served as medical officer for several years in hospitals in Perth, before travelling to Papua New Guinea. It was in PNG that he became dedicated to the advancement of nutrition and primary health care and health services for developing countries.

In 1977, after eight years overseas, he returned to Perth and joined Curtin University, becoming one of their most esteemed researchers. His many landmark studies have provided the evidence for improving health outcomes in the fields of nutrition, breastfeeding, cancer, drug and alcohol abuse, Aboriginal health, primary health care, health services and health promotion. In particular, his work in the area of nutrition and breastfeeding has generated much public interest and policy support. He has authored or co-authored several of the Australian Government's official dietary guidelines, and published almost 400 research papers.

Professor Binns' commitment to the field of public health led him to establish the School of Public Health at Curtin, and a number of research centres including the National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse - now Australia's world-renowned National Drug Research Institute - and the Centre for Health Promotion Research.

The significant body of work he amassed as a research leader within Curtin's School of Public Health has brought increased understanding of nutritional health and broad benefit for not only Australia, but also across the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Binns remains highly regarded internationally, and is engaged regularly as an adviser to international governments and health bodies.

Research Australia

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