Despite being one of the youngest major medical research institutes in Australia, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research traces its origins back to the University of Sydney (est. 1852) and Westmead Hospital (est. 1978).
Westmead Hospital was the first purpose-built university teaching hospital in Sydney since Royal Prince Alfred in 1882. University of Sydney values predominated in its design, purpose and vision; and research facilities not otherwise found on hospital sites were part of its functional brief.
The opportunity to develop high level clinical services and pursue basic and clinical research attracted first-class clinician scientists to the new hospital, keen to be part of the creation of a world-class academic health centre.
In just its first decade of operation, hospital based researchers published 760 scientific papers.
In 1993, the planning for a research institute at Westmead Hospital began. Formed in 1996 as the Westmead Institutes of Health Research, this “institute without walls” was a federation of the four largest research centres in the Hospital: the Centre for Virus Research, the Westmead Institute for Cancer Research, the Storr Liver Unit and the Institute for Immunology and Allergy Research.
Almost immediately, planning and fundraising commenced in order to give the new institute actual walls and in 2000, the first stage of a purpose-built research and administration building was opened by Prime Minister John Howard. Reflecting the promise of the new millennium, the Institute also changed its name to the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research (WMI).
The new building cost just $11M, provided principally by grants and donations from The Westmead Staff Specialists’ Charitable Trust, the State and Commonwealth Governments, the University of Sydney, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and individual donors. Although modest, the building was a milestone in the development and integration of research at Westmead.
In the following years WMI broadened its research focus and attracted an increasing number of research groups from diverse research disciplines and the Institute quadrupled in size and productivity.
The result was an organisation comprising 11 research centres, spanning five discipline areas: cancer, infection and immunity, liver and metabolic, neuroscience and vision, and cardiorespiratory disease.
Even when it first opened, WMI’s modestly sized building could not accommodate all of its research teams and some had remained located within the hospital itself. With the influx of more teams, the Institute commenced planning and raising funds for a much-larger building that could support its growth and development into the future.
It took 10 years to raise the funds starting with a NSW Government grant of $8M in 2001. In the following years the Commonwealth Government contributed $37M to the new building fund in four tranches, the last two under then Health Minister and later Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The Institute’s fundraisers - the Westmead Medical Research Foundation (WMRF) - raised a further $9M, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation donated $6M and the Westmead Staff Specialists’ Charitable Trust committed $1M.
Full funding of the project, however, remained uncertain until 2011 when the NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Jillian Skinner committed $30M from the NSW Government. This enabled the project to finally proceed.
Meanwhile, in 2010 the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research became an independent public company with membership comprising the NSW Government, the University of Sydney and the Westmead Medical Research Foundation.
Guided by a board including representatives of the members, the independent institute enabled a single minded focus on research and gave WMI access to critical government infrastructure funding available to independent research institutes.
The new building was officially opened by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New South Wales Premier, Mike Baird, on the 9th of October 2014.New South Wales Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, and her federal counterpart Peter Dutton, also spoke at the opening.
With 17,500 square metres of space the new institute building was over four times the size of the original. For the first time it allowed the Institute to bring together under one roof all its research groups encouraging greater collaboration and sharing of knowledge, ideas and technology.
Its location adjacent to the Children’s Medical Research Institute and the Kids Research Institute – and between Westmead Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead - was chosen to create a research precinct in the centre of the Westmead campus and physically consolidate the Westmead Research Hub, allowing neighbouring researchers easy access to core high-technology facilities in WMI.
With the Institute now together it was time to develop a new and stronger brand to better reflect the Institute’s mission and identity.
In November 2015 the Institute changed its name to The Westmead Institute for Medical Research and launched its new brand.