Our History

“Before 2004, MS research lacked a common national direction and received very little funding. MS Research Australia was to change this!”

The first known Australian MS Society medical research grant was in Sydney in 1963. For much of the first 30 years of the state MS societies’ existence, they individually contributed small amounts to medical researchers in their respective states in an uncoordinated way.

During the 1990s, the State MS Societies began contributing a small portion of their turnover to an MS Australia research fund that was administered by a Medical Research Advisory Board. In 1995, this reached $817,000 for a broad range of grant applications. In 2000, the Australian MS Longitudinal Study, a pioneering ‘tracking’ study, was one of the more significant projects initiated and was funded by the Societies until 2005.

Lack of funding for MS research spurs key stakeholders to act

By 2002, the MS societies’ annual research funding allocation had nearly halved to $444,000 per annum in total due to a focus on the pressures of maintaining client services. Those research funds were being too thinly spread over an increasing number of projects to have a major impact on MS research in Australia. The US National MS Society, then and now a very large funder of Australian MS researchers, had also started pressuring MS Australia to increase its research funding and Australian People with MS (PwMS) and donors were starting to question the MS Societies’ focus on funding research.

Public opinion on what area a donation of $100 would be best spent for MS:

Source: Newspoll 2011

  • Research and new medicines - 52%
  • Keeping young people out of nursing homes - 18%
  • Support services and equipment - 25%
  • None/don't know - 3%

Source: Galaxy Research 2017

  • Research into MS - 57%
  • Support services - 34%
  • Elsewhere - 8%

MS Research Australia born to rejuvenate MS research

In 2002, in response to the MS Societies’ limited research funding and in parallel with a move to a national federation of MS societies, the idea of

MS Research Australia was first raised. The Directors and CEOs of several state Societies started discussing the need to recommit to research funding via a new business model. MS Research Australia would lift and coordinate the national MS research effort by establishing ‘virtual institutes’, and aim to identify cause(s) and cure(s). Also at this time (2003) Booz Allen was asked to provide a report on the potential to enhance MS research in Australia – and provided a blueprint for a new organisational focus.

All this provided the impetus for MS Research Australia to be formed, as an attempt to overhaul the way MS research was done in Australia.

With investment banker Simon McKeon as inaugural Chairman and Jeremy Wright as its first Executive Director, MS Research Australia became operational in late October 2004. Its first strategic objectives were to develop major sponsorship campaigns, establish the governance structure and a portfolio of research projects, and recruit researchers to establish new virtual research centres. MS Research Australia wanted to substantially increase available funding and realign the MS research effort. This would require a focused MS research campaign and a revised research structure.

MS Research Australia growth of investment into MS research ($ Millions)

  • MS Research Australia
  • MS Australia

Note: FY2020 is a budgeted figure

National spending on MS research by external bodies 2002 – 2019 financial years ($ Millions)

  • MS Research Australia
  • MS Australia
  • National Health and Medical Research Council

Note: FY2020 is a budgeted figure

MS Research Australia achieves results

The early result was a substantial increase in new MS research funding, with more than $1 million being spent by 2005 – 2006, which was the highest allocation MS researchers had seen in ten years. By 2007 – 2008, the allocation was increased to $2 million, which was a fivefold increase since inception. MS Research Australia has continued to progressively increase the commitment and is now the largest not-for-profit funder of MS research in the country with over $44.3 million invested in funding and facilitating MS research since 2004.

MS Research Australia’s research funding strategy still reflects Ron Phillips’ pioneering 1961 objective – ‘to avoid duplication of overseas research’ – now expressed as ‘funding MS research where it will make a significant contribution to the world wide effort’. Ron Phillips was the first CEO of the Australia MS Society 50 years ago.

Through MS Research Australia, Australians living with MS are now actively and directly influencing the country’s research agenda – to accelerate research toward the identifying the cause, better treatment options and ultimately a cure for MS.

Source: ‘A History of the Multiple Sclerosis Societies of New South Wales and Victoria’, 2006

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