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Feeney donation leverages in $402m

Resource type: News

The Australian |

Original Source

by Guy Healy

THE capacity of Brisbane-based universities and research institutes to conduct advanced medical research would be doubled by the record $102.5 million donation by billionaire philanthropist Chuck Feeney, leading immunologist Ian Frazer said this week.

In a surprise move, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and federal Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that Mr Feeney’s largesse would leverage another $402m in funding to complete three key medical and sustainability projects in Brisbane.

Professor Frazer, co-inventor of the anti-cervical cancer drug Gardasil, told the HES the funding was a significant step forward in Brisbane’s efforts to recruit the best researchers.

“Realistically, with all this extra capacity we will be nearly doubling the capacity to do research in southeast Queensland, and that means doubling the number of scientists,” Professor Frazer said.

“That will not happen overnight, nor would we want it to; we want to get the best. The good thing is we are attracting people from overseas who see what’s happening in southeast Queensland and are saying this is where we want to be.”

Professor Frazer’s comments followed those of Ms Bligh, who said Queensland’s growth in scientists had outstripped those of its Victorian and NSW rivals.

Ms Bligh said that a decade ago there were 8500 scientists living in Queensland, compared with 15,800 in NSW and 15,600 in Victoria.

“We’ve now seen a major shift. In 2008-09 there were 18,100 scientists working in Queensland, more than triple the growth of researchers in NSW and higher than Victoria’s growth,” she said.

Ms Bligh said the latest $102m in funding, from Mr Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, followed a previous investment of more than $170m in scientific and medical research infrastructure in Queensland during the past 10 years.

The latest donation will be split three ways, with $50m for the Translational Research Institute, $27.5m for the Queensland Institute of Medical Research‘s Smart State medical research centre, and $25m for the Queensland University of Technology‘s hub for sustainable and secure infrastructure.

However the philanthropic funds — which originally stemmed from Mr Feeney’s duty-free stores selling alcohol and cigarettes at airports across the world — have leveraged Queensland funding of $177m and commonwealth funding of $325m.

Professor Frazer paid tribute to Mr Feeney’s longstanding strategy of using his private funds to leverage public funding from state and federal sources.

“Chuck’s efforts are the glue that has brought together disparate research groups around Queensland to work together towards the common good,” he said.

However, Professor Frazer, whose research institute will house 650 scientists when it is completed in 2012, said the country faced a challenge in attracting sufficient numbers of high-quality young scientists willing to commit to a demanding scientific career.

He said the challenge for Australia in continuing “to pull its weight” in the research sector was finding a way to provide attractive career paths for the best and brightest young people.

“I think we underpay our scientists as we underpay our teachers, and you can quote me on that as much as you like,” Professor Frazer said.

Similarly, Smart State Council member and Queensland Institute of Medical Research director Michael Good said the new buildings alone would not be the answer or “magic bullet or grenade” to conquering myriad cancers.

“But they will provide the opportunities for young scientists, guided by mentors, to bring those answers to fruition in the years ahead,” he said.

Former University of Queensland vice-chancellor John Hay paid tribute to Mr Feeney’s generosity, commitment and modesty.

“He never wished to be quoted in the press or talk about these things,” he told the HES.

“He wanted no names on any buildings. (But) he’s done more to change Queensland in the eyes of the world than any other thing in its history.”