The Greater Building Society has supported the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) since 1998 when the Greater provided pilot funding of $25,000 to a young researcher, Dr Darren Shafren, who was investigating the potential of the common cold virus to kill melanoma cells. That project has gone on to become a multi-million dollar international clinical trial and reflects the trajectory of what has become a fundamental relationship.
“HMRI is a leader in the field when it comes to medical research,” says Anne Long, CEO of the Greater Charitable Foundation (GCF). They are professional, passionate and innovative which are key qualities you desire in all funding relationships.
“For the Greater Charitable Foundation [established in 2011], the work of HMRI, and specifically the stroke research team, aligns perfectly with the Foundation’s mission to improve the lives of people within our community. We fund projects that will make a real and lasting difference to lives, and the outcomes they are presenting are proving to do just that, delivering some of the most promising advances in stroke care, both nationally and potentially internationally.”
Sally Castle, HMRI Associate Director Marketing and Development, says the support of GCF has helped the institute attract and retain leading researchers in the field—no small feat for a regional centre.
“[Their] support has allowed us to bring back leading researchers to the region and retain some great researchers who would have otherwise taken their expertise to other cities, or even overseas. Having the best researchers here means we can continue doing excellent research that is having a real impact on improving healthcare. It also helps to attract even more national and international researchers and collaborators to the Institute, as well as pharmaceutical and medical devices companies to support the research.
“The continued support has played a key role in providing a key platform for the growth of HMRI, and the HMRI Stroke Research Group, in particular, which is now one of the premier stroke research centres in Australia, and is leading national international trials that will have a major impact on the way stroke is treated and managed in the future. The funding given by the GCF has been leveraged to gain grants and fellowships from the National Health and Medical Research Council,” Castle explains.
“Not only that, the long-term commitment and investment of supporters like the Greater allows us to plan for the future. A lot has been said about the lack of career stability and surety in the health and medical research industry. The support that the Greater has given to HMRI offers researchers more stability, meaning they can focus their attention on what they do best – conducting cutting edge research into better treatments, cures and preventions to improve the health of the community.”
HMRI stroke researcher, Associate Professor Neil Spratt, was the recipient of two stroke research fellowships from the Greater which he says allowed him to return to Newcastle after spending four years in Melbourne.
“I think for all of us in the HMRI stroke team, it has been invaluable in giving us the funding to undertake really important preliminary work that has led to major grant success,” he says. “It’s hard to overstate how important this is—we’ve launched two major clinical trials of new therapies for stroke, following preliminary funding from the Greater. Both of these trials have a strong chance of resulting in better treatment for stroke patients worldwide.”
“It’s also been wonderful to form a long-term relationship with the staff of the Greater,” Spratt continues. “Not many medical researchers get the opportunity to get out there and talk to funders about their work and what they hope to achieve. It’s a really strong motivator for us to make sure that the work we do really does make a difference.”
A 2013 social return on investment analysis on the impact of the funding in two key stroke projects showed for every dollar of the $240,000 received from GCF for the Improving Patient Selection for Effective Stroke Treatment project, a return of $6.63 was obtained in the generation of additional research grants and better patient outcomes (cost avoided in treating stroke patients). For every dollar of $180,000 received from GCF for the Keeping Brain Cells Alive After Stroke project, a return of $2.30 was obtained in the generation of additional research grants.
“The importance of philanthropy in the evolution of medical research,” Castle says, “can’t be underestimated.”
“Without community support, there really would be no medical research,” she says. “National government funding bodies will always be important, but funding new ideas is very difficult. Only about 15 per cent of projects that apply receive government funding, so it’s vital that institutes engage donors and philanthropists to ensure high-quality research can get off the ground and continue.
“Donors and investors play a vital role because they can support new ideas and projects that government funding bodies might not. The support of and investment in medical research by the private sector makes so much sense because we will all eventually benefit from the new knowledge and developments—whether it be better preventions, cures or treatments for health conditions that affect all of us.”
Making it work: Their advice
Anne Long, Greater Charitable Foundation:When funding medical research, the project outcomes often take longer to see than with other types of projects. Funders need to be flexible, understanding and willing to work with the partner organisation to adapt to changed circumstances.
Open, honest communication about progress and possibilities is key to the success of funding medical research initiatives.
Even when medical research ‘fails’, so to speak, researchers learn from trial and error, and these unsuccessful studies ultimately lead to new discoveries and new pathways. A wrong turn can take them on a whole new direction, and a myriad of different outcomes! Medical research has a vast impact; you are able to help individuals achieve their potential, you are able to share in breakthroughs and witness real change, and you can then watch this change as it has a lasting impact on people’s lives.
The Greater employees also have a great engagement with HMRI. We have several employees registered on the HMRI Research Register, giving their assistance to various research projects being undertaken. Employees also participate in HMRI fundraisers, public seminars and open days.
Sally Castle, HMRI: Taking the time to truly listen to your donors’ wishes is vital to securing major funding – understanding their motivation to give, and finding ways to help them solve that problem. We really like to understand what our donors are looking for in their investment, and work closely with major donors and researchers to create a relationship that suits both.
One of HMRI’s key advantages is that we represent 1400 researchers working across more than 50 different health research areas. This means we can help donors to become involved in most health areas that interest them, and enable them to help improve the health of the community.
We know that the research process often can be quite slow, but donors and philanthropists want to see action quickly. We’ve found that an explanation of the nature of research from the outset is very important. Also, having a great spokesperson from the research team to talk to donors and explain their work goes a long way. Creating a bond between the donor and researcher helps to create an understanding about the motivations for supporting research.
Most importantly, and it seems so simple, if you want someone to donate, you need to ask! There are many people and companies that share and want to support your mission, but you have to invite them to be a part of it.
Key research highlights of the relationship:
– Key funding for the TASTE Trial – an international multi-centre study looking at new clot-busting drug therapy for stroke. The study has already shown two-thirds of stroke patients treated with the drug Tenecteplase demonstrated major neurological improvement and experienced excellent or good recovery after their stroke. With the Foundation’s backing for the initial Phase-II trial, the stroke team was able to secure $4 million in NHMRC funding last year to expand the clinical study. The trial has already achieved significant treatment benefits for acute stroke victims, and will soon involve 20 stroke centres around Australia and 50 world-wide.
– Dr Darren Shafren’s research has demonstrated the effectiveness of a common cold virus as a potential treatment to kill cancer cells. The biotech company Viralytics was later formed to commercialise the development of the treatment. A Phase-II clinical trial is currently underway in the US with late-stage melanoma patients, while a separate trial is assessing the multiple intravenous dosing of the drug in patients with tumours including prostate, lung and metastatic bladder cancers.