Professor Suzanne Cory AC

Director, 1996 – 2009

Professor Suzanne Cory is one of Australia’s most distinguished molecular biologists. As director of WEHI she energetically promoted science policy and research at both the national and international level.


Under Professor Cory’s leadership, WEHI focused on four big global medical challenges: cancer, immunity, autoimmunity and infectious diseases.

New disciplines were embraced, including bioinformatics, structural biology, medicinal chemistry, genomics and large-scale targeted mutagenesis, enabling a truly multidisciplinary approach to tackling human disease.

WEHI became a world leader in apoptosis research, following the discovery in 1988 by Professor David Vaux with Professor Cory and Professor Jerry Adams that the gene causing human follicular lymphoma acts by blocking the central cell death pathway.

Other key achievements of the period included:

  • The identification, for the first time, of the breast stem cell
  • The discovery of how immune responses are regulated by apoptosis, the natural program of cell death
  • Pioneering a systems biology approach to understanding the immune system
  • Development of vaccines for type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease
  • A promising new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Significant advances in malaria research including development of vaccine candidates
  • Enormous strides forward in understanding the regulation of blood cell production
  • Building development

Like her predecessor, Sir Gustav Nossal, Professor Cory was faced with an organisation rapidly outgrowing its premises.

She was instrumental in securing funding and key stakeholder support for the $185 million redevelopment of the Parkville building. Completed in 2012, the redeveloped building doubled the Institute’s research capacity and provided world-class laboratories to support and inspire our staff.

Cell death researchers in 1998
Cell death researchers in 1998 (L-R) Professor Jerry Adams, Professor Cory, Dr Alan Harris, Professor Andreas Strasser and Professor David Vaux

Clinical and commercial links

Rapidly translating new discoveries into improved treatments and preventative strategies for patients continued to be a core focus under Cory.

The new Parkville building was designed to include a dedicated Clinical Translation Centre, strengthening links with clinicians in The Royal Melbourne Hospital and elsewhere.

WEHI also established the Biotechnology Centre within the research and development park at La Trobe University. The Bundoora campus provides facilities for drug discovery and development, to enhance our capacity for moving basic research discoveries further along the R&D pipeline.

Professor Suzanne Cory and Victorian Premier John Brumby at the opening of the new Biotechnology Centre in 2002
Professor Suzanne Cory and then Victorian Treasurer John Brumby at the opening of the new Biotechnology Centre

Looking towards the next generation

To generate enthusiasm for science among school students, and to foster excellence in science education in schools, Cory initiated a partnership to establish the Gene Technology Access Centre (GTAC). GTAC provides innovative laboratory programs in cell and molecular biology for more than 6000 school students and 800 science teachers every year.

After her term as director finished, Professor Cory became President of the Australian Academy of Science. She continues her research at WEHI as an honorary distinguished research fellow in the Blood Cells and Blood Cancer division.

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