Governments combine with WEHI to create new drug discovery centre

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The federal and Victorian governments are combining to establish a new National Drug Discovery Centre (NDDC) at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Health minister Greg Hunt and Victorian counterpart Jenny Mikakos opened the $75 million Melbourne-based centre today. 

The centre, which is focussed on the commercialisation of new drug discoveries, has been established with $25 million from the federal government, $18 million from the Victorian government and $32 million from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The centre has robotics equipment to enable researchers to screen hundreds of thousands of chemicals and rapidly identify which ones can alter processes in the body implicated by a disease or condition.

The federal government will subsidise 90 per cent of the screening cost through the Medical Research Future Fund, reducing the cost from more than $300,000 to around $30,000 to $45,000.

The first two recipients of the subsidy will be projects to find new medicines for cancer immunotherapy and type 2 diabetes.

Professor Matthias Ernst from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute aims to uncover how to make cancer tumours less visible to the immune system and enhance the effect of anti-tumour immune therapies.

Associate Professor Anthony Don from the Centenary Institute aims to develop new drugs that reverse systemic insulin resistance that causes type 2 diabetes, without the side effect of weight gain commonly associated with most current drugs.

Round two applications for subsidised access to the NDDC close on 23 March. There will be two funding rounds per year with increasing capacity until 2022.

“This centre will allow medical researchers to fast-track the development of new drugs to treat common and rare diseases, improving the quality of life for many Australians,” said Minister Hunt.

“Our governments have worked together to establish this centre which is the first of its kind in Australia.”

Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said, “This will be a game changer for Victoria’s world-class researchers who now have the equipment they need to turn their biomedical discoveries into new medicines – bringing life-saving treatments to patients, sooner.”

“It will combine specialist expertise with cutting-edge technology right here in Melbourne – and is also accessible to researchers from around Australia.”