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Helping fund a new frontier in cancer medicine

Volume 11 Number 9 September 28 - October 25 2015

Chris Weaver reports that a new gift to support a Chair in Cancer Medicine is the latest donation to Believe – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne.

A $5 million grant from Neville Bertalli and his wife Diana will endow the Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine at the University of Melbourne – the 20th chair to have been announced since the launch of Believe – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne.

Mr and Mrs Bertalli sum up what philanthropy means to their family in two words.

“‘Duty’ and ‘obligation’,” they say.

“It’s as simple as that.”

Mr Bertalli is a Faculty of Business and Economics alumnus. In 2011 he established the Bertalli Family Foundation Scholarships, which allow rural students the opportunity to study a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Melbourne.

The Chair will be based in the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) – the Parkville facility purpose-built for cancer research, treatment and care. The VCCC is scheduled for occupation in mid-2016.

Mr and Mrs Bertalli’s gift is motivated by family history. Like many, they have lost loved ones to cancer.

“I lost my brother and Neville lost his mother to cancer too,” Mrs Bertalli says.

“Every family has probably been touched by cancer, so we’ve done what we can to help provide a possible solution.”

Executive Director of the VCCC and longstanding member of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Professor Jim Bishop says the VCCC will be the biggest cancer research and treatment facility in Australia, and is based on the collaborative facilities available in the United States and United Kingdom.

“The opening of the new cancer hospital and research facility is the optimum time to be attracting the best and brightest research talent,” Professor Bishop says.

“What the Bertallis’ generosity gives us is the opportunity to appoint a world-leading person into the Chair, where they will carry out research to immediately benefit our community.”

Professor Bishop says the new VCCC building allows for high-level collaboration between research fields, ranging from population health specialists and clinicians, through to biologists and genomic experts. International experience demonstrates this is the best model for advancing cancer research, establishing treatments and finding cancer cures.

“The United States’ National Cancer Institute has used the designated Comprehensive Cancer Center model for 40 years because it has been their flagship program to ensure oncologists get the best research training,” he says.

“This is the first time we have been able to replicate that system in Australia and provide cancer patients with the best possible treatment through our partner organisations.”

Proximity to Melbourne’s world-class medical precinct was vital to the VCCC’s foundation.

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Professor Mark Hargreaves, says having a major research and treatment hub matters because it allows interaction and the development of ideas.

“The physical layout of the wet labs in the new VCCC building encourages collaboration between a wide range of population, clinical and biological research scientists,” he says.

“It also means the many medical institutes located nearby – such as the Murdoch Institute, Bio21 Institute, Doherty Institute, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre – can share technology and expertise.”

For the Bertallis, that co-operative culture and research achievement was vital. After long family discussions (including the vital input of their son, Cameron), it was the VCCC’s potential to provide cancer breakthroughs that led to their gift.

“Our desire to give back to the University has existed for a while,” Mr Bertalli says.

“Knowing there are so many great medical institutions working together to cure cancer just made the decision to give to cancer research very reassuring.”