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$20 million gift to establish a cancer immunotherapy laboratory

16 June 2020
Donation drives research to supercharge the immune system
Philanthropy provides major support for developing immunotherapy to treat cancer and other immune-related diseases.

A $20 million gift to the University of Sydney from the CLEARbridge Foundation will fund a new Professorial Chair, a laboratory, and vital supporting resources to drive immunotherapy research. Widely considered the most promising emerging treatment, immunotherapy offers exciting new ways to combat a broad range of cancers.

Professor Robyn Ward, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University said:

"The global research community has made extraordinary advances in developing immunotherapies for cancers over the last 10 years. The development of these highly effective treatments occurred because of fundamental research which dates back to the 1890s.

"This funding brings us closer to a day when researchers will fully understand the immune system, and can use that knowledge to maximum effect, not only against cancer, but other immune- related diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis."

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal said:

"When you consider that cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death globally, with Australia having one of the highest melanoma rates in the world, you appreciate the potential impact of this incredible gift.

"We are so grateful for this opportunity to broaden and deepen the University’s research capability. Together with our teaching hospitals and affiliated research institutions we could advance medical treatment in ways we cannot quite yet imagine."

What is immunotherapy?

As part of its normal function, the immune system prevents or limits the growth of many cancers. However, cancer develops ways to avoid detection and destruction. Immunotherapy is at the forefront of cancer treatment with researchers working on ways to supercharge the immune system, from bypassing the ability of tumour cells to evade detection, to using viruses to infect tumours and create an immune system focused on killing cancer.

Following its notable success with melanoma, lung and other cancers, immunotherapy is now recognised as a vital fourth pillar for treating cancer, joining surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Melanoma is the ‘poster child’ for what is possible with immunotherapies. Treatments use checkpoint inhibitors, drugs that block the action of proteins which stop the immune system from attacking cancer.

This success sparked a paradigm shift in how melanoma was viewed by the cancer research community and how the condition was treated. This ignited interest in what could be possible with further immunotherapy developments.

We are so grateful for this opportunity to broaden and deepen the University’s research capability. Together with our teaching hospitals and affiliated research institutions we could advance medical treatment in ways we cannot quite yet imagine.
Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Endowed Professorial Chair of Immunotherapy

Researchers at the University of Sydney have been part of the ground-breaking effort in treating melanoma. Our researchers are also leading the way in applying immunotherapy to treating pancreatic cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia and Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Chair in Immunotherapy would build on these successes while seeking to broaden the spectrum of treatable cancers. Immunotherapy currently works for a third of melanomas, so reliably predicting who will benefit from costly treatments is crucial. Part of the Chair’s research will be to explore ways to characterise an individual’s cancer, and their likely response to treatments.

‘Omics’ technology that analyses at the molecular and genomic level will play a key part in investigating an individual’s cancer and their likely response, including the role of gut microbiota.

The Chair of Immunotherapy will develop a comprehensive plan to build sustainable capacity and translate the latest research into the next generation of life-saving clinical practice. The Chair will work with a dedicated team co-located with clinical services and with access to state-of-the art analytical technology.

Philanthropy provides major support for developing immunotherapy to treat cancer and other immune-related diseases.??

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