Share via

National Health and Medicine Research Council facing medical research challenges and nurturing talent

When Warwick Anderson stepped-down as CEO of the National Health and Medicine Research Council (NHMRC*) in 2015, he addressed the National Press Club about the challenges facing medical research and the need for ongoing commitment to nurture talent

An example of a Foundation that is part of addressing the challenge is the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation.

For more than 25 years, the Foundation has supported new clinical investigators in their first clinical placement.

Established in 1992 to support medical research institutions investigating disease, and organisations committed to improving public health and the elderly, the Foundation provides untied establishment grants that bridges the gap for clinicians between post-doctoral studies and clinical research positions.

In 1995 a Medical Advisory Board was appointed to ensure that the Foundation made a difference to medical research in Australia. The experts on this Board were in agreement with what Mr Anderson highlighted as an issue 20 years earlier, prompting them to established the Clinical Investigator Award and Senior Medical Research Fellowship program.

The Foundation’s Fellowships are among the most prestigious awards available to medical researchers in Australia. It means five years of funding totalling $1.25 million providing both salary and project grant support for the projects of those outstanding mid-career medical researchers.  It offers the recipients flexibility to pursue their chosen research focus, without the underlying stress of continually applying for research grants.

In November 2019, Professor Andrew Steer was awarded a Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship. In October 2020, Professor Steer was inducted into the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences as a Fellow and was also awarded the Jian Zhou Medal, presented to a rising star of Australian Health and Medical Science.

Professor Steer received these prestigious awards in recognition of his incredible impact in reducing the burden of infectious disease in rural and remote Australia, and lower-middle income countries including in the Pacific, Asia, and Africa. His research has created impact through three major projects:

  1. Mass-drug administration to treat and prevent scabies and impetigo, thereby preventing Group A Streptococcus (StrepA) infection
  2. Establishing the StrepA vaccine alliance to accelerate the discovery and development of a StrepA vaccine
  3. Improving diagnosis and treatment in remote communities of rheumatic heart disease, a serious complication of Strep A infection, using robust and portable ultrasound machines.

Professor Steer is a paediatric and infectious disease physician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. His work has been supported by the Viertel Foundation Fellowship, and other philanthropic grants, such as the Scobie and Claire MacKinnon Trust (also managed by Equity Trustees) and the prestigious Macquarie 50th Anniversary Award, of $10 million, from the Macquarie Group Foundation.

Sylvia and Charles Viertel left a legacy which contributes to meeting the challenge of funding essential medical research to benefit all of us and nurturing the talent of the future.

* The NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council) is a Australia’s leading expert body in health and medical research.  It is a government body and is the country’s principal funder of medical research.