November 22 2016

The Ian Potter Centre for Genomics and Personalised Medicine

By The Ian Potter Foundation

On, Wednesday 16 November 2016, Professor Graeme B. Ryan, a Governor of The Ian Potter Foundation, was invited to speak at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Celebration Night. 

Professor Ryan's speech explained the background and reasons for the Foundation's $3 million grant towards equipment for The Ian Potter Centre for Genomics and Personalised Medicine, a partnership between the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. This centre is Australia’s first research centre devoted to matching disease treatments to a person’s genetic makeup.  

We share the speech here as it clearly articulates the funding objectives of the Foundation's Medical Research program and the careful consideration given by the Governors to each grant application.

Four and a half years ago, in April 2012, Dr Tom Hurley and I faced a challenging dilemma.  In the Ian Potter Foundation’s Medical Research round for that year, we had two outstanding applications for funding:

1.  The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre application from the Peter Mac and its partners in the VCCC alliance to support the development of facilities for cancer research in the new VCCC building; and

2.  The Centre for Genomics and Personalised Medicine joint application from The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute to fund a major genomics research initiative. Genomics is the study of genes and their functions.

Tom Hurley and I liked both of these applications very much, but the dilemma was in assessing the impact that funding them both would have on the Foundation’s forward budget, particularly the budget for future Medical Research applications.

I spoke to our Chairman, Charles Goode. He said: “If they are really important projects, be brave and recommend them both and we shall see what the Governors decide!”  The Governors did support both: granting $15 million over six years for VCCC; and $3 million for equipment over four years for the Genomics Centre that we are celebrating tonight!

The Ian Potter Foundation has a proud and productive history of supporting excellent research at WEHI and the Murdoch Institute.  WEHI was established 101 years ago; Murdoch 30 years ago; The Ian Potter Foundation 52 years ago. 

Over the years prior to this joint award of $3 million in 2012, the Foundation had awarded a total of about $2 million in grants to WEHI and about $600,000 to Murdoch. 

In today’s dollar terms, these amounts are substantially larger.  Our records show an interesting historical example of this.  As I have indicated, The Ian Potter Foundation was established in 1964.  The Foundation’s first award to WEHI was in 1965 for (I quote) “items of equipment to assist Dr J F A P Miller’s research on cancer, particularly leukemia”.  The amount awarded was 5000 pounds.  In today’s dollars. Craig Connelly [CEO of The Ian Potter Foundation] tells me that this $10,000 would now be worth about $125,000!

We like to claim this first Potter Foundation award to the WEHI as a quintessential example of the Foundation’s role in capacity-building because Professor Jacques Miller is, of course, now world-famous and still at WEHI 51 years later!

To come back to the Centre for Genomics and Personalised Medicine:  we have a great deal to celebrate in terms of successful outcomes and leverage!  Let me quote some passages from the excellent final report from WEHI and Murdoch Children's Research Institute to the Foundation, received a few weeks ago:

“The genomics equipment purchased through the Potter Centre was the catalyst that sparked a new era of collaborative research in genomics and enabled Victorian institutions to take a lead role in integrating genomics into routine health care and to become a world leader in the use of genomics inpatient care.” 

And further:

“As a result of the leadership and investment by the Ian Potter Foundation, the Victorian Government has now invested a further $25 million in funding to expand the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance” (This Alliance now involves, in addition to WEHI and Murdoch, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital, University of Melbourne, CSIRO, Peter Mac Cancer Centre, Austin Health, Monash Health and the Australian Genome Research Facility). 

Further, I quote:

“Over the next four years, the Alliance will be able to offer diagnosis and treatment to up to 2500 children and adults for conditions including epilepsy, leukemia, cancers, childhood diseases and inherited neuropathies.”

And finally: “In addition, the National Health and Medical Research Council has committed a further $25 million to establish the Australian Genomics Health Alliance which draws upon the learnings from the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance and the early work facilitated by the Ian Potter Foundation.”  End of quote. 

This is a truly fantastic outcome!

On behalf of the Governors of The Ian Potter Foundation, I congratulate all those involved in the work of the Ian Potter Centre for Genomics and Personalised Medicine for their outstanding achievements in more than fulfilling their objectives over the past four years.  It has been a privilege for the Ian Potter Foundation to be a partner with WEHI and the Murdoch Institute in this important, far-reaching enterprise.  We wish you all many more years of continuing success!