Snow Medical to revolutionise immunology research globally with $100 million gift

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 Estimated reading times: 3 minutes
  • Emphasis of funding is the long-term support for scientists to undertake bold research.
  • Debilitating autoimmune disorders collectively affect up to 10% of the population.
  • Centre to open in 2024 and will look at immune health from a whole-of-person perspective.

In one of the largest and longest-running philanthropic partnerships in Australian history, the Snow Medical Research Foundation (Snow Medical) announced this week that it will work with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute to establish one of the world’s leading immunology research centres with an initial commitment of $100 million over 10 years. It will be called the Snow Centre for Immune Health, and the emphasis of the funding is to create the long-term capacity to allow scientists to pursue bold research programs. Ongoing investments are expected beyond 10 years.

Snow Medical says the gift will help move away from incremental science in a bid to solve the grand challenges of immunology. The partnership is people-focused and will support some of Australia’s best scientists and their teams to pursue their visionary and high-risk, high-reward work that is expected to fundamentally change how immunological diseases are treated.

Snow Medical Chair Tom Snow said: “We searched the country to find the best teams with the brightest ideas, and we chose to home this project at WEHI as we are confident it will help transform the lives of so many Australians with immunological disease.

“We empower bold, transformative research across Australia by backing the best and brightest researchers – and resourcing them with the tools they need to be world-class.”

The $100 million commitment more than doubles Snow Medical’s investment in medical research from $100 million in the four years since 2019 to more than $200 million.

“This is about our family’s commitment to long-term sustainable positive impact for the community, and it builds on the legacy of the Snow Fellowship program, research funding and other community-based philanthropy. We could not be more proud.”

Terry Snow, Canberra businessman, philanthropist and Snow Medical founder, said: “Australia has some of the best researchers in the world. We want to get them out of short-term funding cycles and give them freedom to experiment and take risks – we’re here to back them.

WEHI researchers have always been known for their outstanding commitment to excellence. They presented us with a bold and ambitious vision for Australian research – they’re going to change the lives of millions of Australians living with immune health issues,” he said.

Debilitating autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis collectively affect up to 10% of the population and account for some of our most significant chronic health problems. Treatments for immunological diseases are limited – many people are treated with blanket approaches and in some cases treatments don’t exist.

Most research globally to-date has focused on a disease by disease, project by project approach, and has frustratingly led to few new treatments. For the first time globally at scale, the centre will look at immune health from a whole-of-system, whole-of-person perspective, to deliver transformational real and measurable impacts for patients living with these debilitating diseases. The Centre will translate discoveries made in the lab to benefits for patients at unprecedented scale and speed.

As well as funding the next generation of exceptional young talented researchers, the Snow Medical partnership will also fund Snow Research Clinics. Initially with founding partner, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and then progressively across Victoria. The Snow Research Clinics will allow patients to join immune system trials, while also concurrently treating those most at-need with the best and latest research treatments. It will leapfrog Victoria forward to be one of the best places globally to treat immune diseases with the best treatments, says Snow Medical.

WEHI acting director Professor Alan Cowman said the Snow Centre for Immune Health will completely change the way we view the immune system, with the ambitious aim of revolutionising healthcare delivery to be about proactively predicting and preventing, instead of reacting to and treating, immune illness and disorders.

“The Centre will rapidly accelerate this growing field of research and do it at a scale not seen anywhere else in the world. We are deeply grateful to the Snow Medical Research Foundation and the Snow family for their vision, boldness and generosity, in backing this talented team and their revolutionary approach to how we understand and treat immune disease.”

The Centre will commence operation in early 2024, and is expected to employ more than 50 scientists, clinicians and staff within the first five years. Snow Medical said it chose to partner with WEHI to lead this initiative with national and international collaborators because of WEHI’s leadership and culture, which encourages scientific curiosity, develops young researchers and empowers high-performing teams. Built from strong philanthropic beginnings, WEHI has an outstanding track record in science and medical research, advancing equity and equality, institutional leadership and successful commercial development.

Jack Heath, CEO of Philanthropy Australia, said: “This is a stunning gift from the Snow Medical Research Foundation with the potential to benefit literally millions of people. Importantly, it stretches over a 10-year period, which gives the WEHI and Royal Melbourne Hospital teams the ability to plan for the long-term and maximise impact.” 

Professor Jo Douglass from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, who will co-lead the Centre, said that the long-term vision and funding from the Snow Medical Research Foundation would ensure her team could move beyond the short-term thinking that currently slows down major research discoveries from being translated.

The aim is for an efficient translation of research from bench to bedside, and the program will target rapid development of new diagnostics and therapies. “The integrated design of the Snow Centre for Immune Health will ensure the best treatments are immediately available to patients in the clinic. This signals a new era of partnership and reflects our shared purpose of building highly impactful and multidisciplinary research, together,” she said.