Auckland Medical Research Foundation

Kick starting the careers of emerging researchers

  • Auckland Medical Research Foundation

    Auckland Medical Research Foundation Sciences Learning Centre.

In the late Sir Paul Callaghan’s words – “If we can embrace its potential, science could be a major game-changer for New Zealand”.

The careers of some of New Zealand’s most eminent medical scientists were kick started by funding from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation (AMRF), the largest independent medical research funder in the country, outside of government.

An impressive list of world class scientists including Sir Brian Barratt Boyes, Prof Sir Peter Gluckman, and Prof Sir Graham Liggins, received Foundation support early in their careers and all have subsequently moved on to establish distinguished careers and gain international recognition.

For more than half a century, the AMRF has been providing medical research funding support, with current levels of funding reaching $3million annually.  Support is provided across the complete spectrum of research from basic blue skies research, to clinical trials, and patient care.

“The Foundation has been true to its mission from day one – that research enhances the standard of practice of medicine, with a direct benefit of improving the future health of all New Zealanders,” says Kim McWilliams, executive director.

“And what makes us unique is that every dollar donated to the Foundation goes directly to research and not administration, which is funded through a specific endowment,” she says.

The AMRF is about to enter the first of its two annual funding rounds, held in June and December.  The large number of applications is rigorously appraised by the Foundation’s Medical Committee comprising clinicians, scientists and researchers with a broad range of expertise.

Whilst the Foundation is currently able to fund 23 percent of its applications, the equivalent Government agency, the Health Research Council, can only support 8 percent of its applications.

“Government funding of medical research in this country is lagging well behind comparable nations,” says Kim.

“Medical research funding generated from central government in this country per capita is roughly only one third of that in Australia, one fifth of that in the United Kingdom, and one tenth of that in the United States.”

An important part of the Foundation’s philosophy and vision is to build capability, by enabling valuable overseas experience as well as repatriating esteemed researchers.  “Funding is just the first step,” says Kim.  “By bringing them back we are giving back to the process and developing a world class research community in New Zealand.”

As a privately funded charitable trust that has distributed more than $45million since its inception, financial prudence and transparency are paramount.

When Sue Taylor joined the AMRF in 2008 as Finance Manager, the financial and operating systems were in desperate need of modernisation, which was achieved by customising MYOB software.

Markhams director Craig Hemphill was a great support to Sue during this time, and the changes that followed.

“Markhams understands not-for-profit organisations and what we do.  It’s a very good fit,” Sue says.

Another major change the Foundation underwent was the accounting policy change around the value of investments.

“We needed to transform the policy from historic valuations to reflect market valuations.  I worked with Markhams closely to facilitate this change,” says Sue.

Now the systems are in place and working well, the relationship between the Foundation and Markhams is primarily around the annual audit but Sue knows Craig is only a phone call away.

“Craig’s on hand if I need him whether it’s for advice or to brainstorm an idea.  We’ve developed a very good working relationship over the years – it’s very easy.”

Published Winter 2012.

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