A NOTE TO OUR SUPPORTERS FROM DOHERTY DIRECTOR PROFESSOR SHARON LEWIN
The story of the Doherty Institute's work and impact would not be complete without our donors. They play a very important role in supporting and enabling our researchers to respond to the continuing challenges not only of COVID-19 but of a number of other infectious diseases.
To our donors, your generosity helped propel discoveries that will ultimately improve health globally and save lives.
Through your giving, you made it possible for the Doherty Institute to harness our experience and research capabilities to push discoveries in diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in response to COVID-19 and to viruses and infectious diseases of pandemic threat. You are an important part of the Doherty story and impact. Sincere thanks for believing in and supporting our work.
Lionel Gell AM
What motivates you to get involved and give to philanthropic causes generally?
I realised I’m able to give to those who are living in poverty, an environment I was brought up in. When you see the hope in their smiles, you just don’t want to give up giving.
Being one of the Doherty Institute's first donors, what attracted you to give to the Institute? How was that connection made?
I’ll tell you simply, it goes back 100 years!
It is the word “Infection". My mother was a midwifery nurse. We always had a medicine chest and in front was a tallish, angular shaped brown bottle. It was labelled Iodine. As a kid, I was petrified to get a cut or a grazing or something which drew blood. Out would come the bottle of Iodine - it stung, and it stained. And to this day, I take seriously the smallest cut or infection although today we have Betadine, which doesn’t sting and doesn't stain and is ten times weaker. The story is that infection allowed tools.
Having the Lionel Gell Foundation meant I was able to provide much greater support for the Doherty Institute.
I look at what we have been able to achieve, particularly with awarding the first Yiaga Ngarnga Scholarship for Infection and Immunity to Kamilaroi woman Kristy Gardner. To have Doherty Institute’s first ever Indigenous Health PhD scholarship is momentous.
What do you get most satisfaction out of, knowing you have a relationship with such an important place of learning and research?
Getting to know the people at the Doherty Institute gives me an understanding of how decisions are made at the top and across the workplace. Dedicated people, while difficult to find, are attracted to an organisation that delivers in strength, support, care and continuous improvement to the advantage and well-being of those in it, and of the community at large - and Doherty Institute has that in spades.
What is your personal sense of what is being achieved by the Doherty Institute?
It’s amazing really. Having been through the Doherty Institute and seeing all those floors and what they do – it's just unbelievable! I have seen that with my own eyes. A lot of people now have heard of the Doherty Institute who’d have never heard of it before COVID-19. They had such a big impact and were so heavily involved in the testing and genomic sequencing from early in the pandemic. But beyond COVID-19, they are working on a whole range of infectious diseases and immunology.
Mr Cumming is the major inaugural donor whose gift of $250 million to the Doherty Institute – the largest philanthropic donation to Australian medical research -- will establish the new Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics (CGCPT) within the Institute.
How did your journey to philanthropy start and what areas are you most passionate about?
My father, who was a doctor, and my mother, who sat on the admissions committee of a medical school and who is now over 100 years old, have had a big influence on me. They instilled in me an interest in medicine and also a strong sense of social responsibility.
When I was a young boy, I was mesmerised by the American and Russian space programmes. I was impressed by their long-term orientation, incredible technology and audacious objectives, and by the way technological breakthroughs could transform the future for the better.
While I have supported public health, sanitation, the environment, global over-population and other critical global issues, I had been looking for something big and transformative that combines medicine and technology.
What issues keep you awake at night and how could these be impacted by philanthropy?
I like to think a lot about society and about the big picture issues. It’s not just about medicine, and it’s not just about health, it’s about how to create more resiliency in society.
We need to increase the resiliency of the global community against the next pandemic. I like to think of societal cohesion like ice on a pond; pandemics and other crises put stress on the ice, and if the ice is too thin it may crack or break. By developing more tools to manage these crises we are strengthening the ice. That's where I feel this gift could make an enduring global contribution today and in the decades ahead.
How did you arrive at the decision to give so generously to establish the Cumming Centre?
All of us want to live in a safe and healthy world. We want our families, our jobs and our communities to be safe and properly functioning. Pandemics threaten all of this, as the world has witnessed during the Spanish flu a century ago, during the AIDS crisis over the past forty years, during SARs, MERs, Ebola and especially during COVID-19.
This pandemic has had a profound impact on society. There have been millions of fatalities, and many people are going to be impacted by mental health and long COVID issues; and there's also the economic cost of perhaps USD30 trillion in lost output.
The world needs additional protection beyond vaccines. We need a second shield to protect the world when the next pandemic hits, whether in a year, a decade or a century. We need to increase the resiliency of the global community. This Centre will develop new technologies to treat future pathogens of pandemic potential. That is the fundamental mission of the new Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics.
What made you choose Australia, and in particular, Melbourne when considering the location for the Cumming Centre?
I had three goals for this gift: I wanted to make a gift to humanity, I wanted the gift to be in technology that will advance science and transform the future, and I wanted to leverage off Australia’s outstanding response to COVID-19.
I am very pleased to locate this Centre at the University of Melbourne and right here at the Doherty Institute. We are delighted to work with the Victorian Government, with the Commonwealth, with globally leading philanthropic organisations and with other donors and partners. This Centre is here in Melbourne due to the sustained investment in medical research by the Victorian Government, by the breadth of the medical research ecosystem here, by the collegiality of all the players involved and, in part, because of the relatively successful response by Australia to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our family have met many Doherty Institute staff and we have seen and felt the terrific culture here. You want bottle it; you do not want to lose it. And we just need to carry that culture and dedication across to this new Centre and replicate it there.
What impact do you hope the Cumming Centre will make globally over the next 10, 20, 30 years?
This Centre will bring together top scientists and brilliant young researchers from across Australia and around the world. It will be a top-tier global medical research centre. It will work in collaboration with other leading medical research centres in Australia, New Zealand, America, the United Kingdom and around the world.
I think we should have a really long timeframe, maybe 40, 50, 60 years. Ten years out, there should be some real indication that we've got meaningful success of some type -- not full success, but meaningful success. We would’ve added to the stock of human knowledge, a new platform and a new pathway.
‘Blue sky’ or discovery science is the hardest science. It's important to create the sense that there's no such thing as failure per se. It is impossible to predict which areas of inquiry will lead to the next breakthrough, and we want an environment where people can take risks knowing that many avenues will lead to dead ends but that a few may lead to truly novel discoveries. We have high aspirations for our people and our results but we recognise this will be a winding path forward and upwards.
We've really got to get people to feel there are no limits. We've got to allow people sufficient scope to really take risks and try brand new things, and then look at it down the road. And hopefully we will have accomplished that. Our family hopes this new Centre will create meaningful advances in this area of global science and help make the world a safe place in the face of the next pandemic.