Major Milestones

Since its inception in 1986, Burnet Institute has become one of Australia's premier medical research and public health institutes.

The Gust Years (1986-1992)


  • Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research formally launched by the then Federal Health Minister The Hon Neil Blewett, MP - Founding Director, Professor Ian Gust and Founding Chairman, The Honourable Geoffrey Connard.


  • Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research was incorporated.


  • The Victorian Injecting Drug Users Cohort Study is launched– the first Australian cohort study of injecting drug users.


  • The Austin Research Institute is incorporated on 1 June - Founding Director, Professor Ian McKenzie and Founding President and Chairman Mr Harry M Hearn.


  • The Austin Research Institute successfully clones human genes CD48, CD99, Ly-9, ThB. These are important genes for immune regulation.

The Mills Years (1992-2002)


  • Professor John Mills is appointed as Director.

  • Dr Nick Crofts forms the International Health Unit out of the existing Epidemiology and Social Research Unit (ESRU) and recruits Rob Moodie as the head.

  • Soluble FcR are shown to inhibit arthritis-like inflammation, suggesting that new drugs are possible for arthritis and lupus.


  • Commencement of the Healthy Start for Child Survival Project in Indonesia


  • Identification of an attenuated strain of HIV-1 that is a possible basis of a vaccine for HIV.


  • First crystallisation of Fc receptor - a breakthrough with the potential for designer drugs with major anti-inflammatory action.


  • First accreditation of Burnet as an NGO by AusAID

1997 – 2001

  • First project in Tibet - Burnet provided technical input to the Tibet Primary Health Care and Water Supply Project seeing a significant increase in safe childbirth, a decline in childhood illnesses and increased access to safe water sources.


  • The Fairfield ‘lookback’ cohort study (a follow-up of people admitted to Fairfield Hospital with hepatitis in the 1970s) produced many insights into the natural history of chronic hepatitis C in Australia.


  • Name changed to Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health Ltd (Burnet Institute) to reflect the increase in public health programs undertaken by the Institute.

  • Opening of the first overseas Burnet office in Vientiane, Lao PDR.

The Wesselingh Years (2002-2007)


  • Professor Steve Wesselingh is appointed as Director

  • The Burnet Institute moves from Fairfield to the Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct (AMREP) in Prahran. The Institute opens its second overseas office in Bali, Indonesia.


  • Burnet opens its third overseas office in Yangon, Burma.


  • Opening of the Institute’s fourth overseas office in Maputo, Mozambique.

2004 - 2007

  • Burnet conducts surveys measuring mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which remain the largest mortality surveys ever conducted in a conflict setting.

  • Significant findings (published in The Lancet) demonstrate that preventable and treatable diseases, not violence, cause the overwhelming majority of deaths.


  • Burnet piloted a linked HIV sentinel surveillance system for the Victorian Government – the first of its kind in Australia paving the way for similar surveillance systems with chlamydia.


  • Austin Research Institute officially merges with the Burnet Institute on 1 January.

The Hogarth Years (2007-2008)


  • Professor Mark Hogarth is appointed as acting Director.

  • Burnet scientists identify a small version of a HCV viral protein that binds to a lock on the host cell surface to gain entry in to the target cell. This forms the basis of extensive, ongoing studies to develop an effective vaccine against HCV.

The Crabb Years (2008-present)


  • Professor Brendan Crabb is appointed as Director and CEO.

  • Burnet’s Clinical Research Laboratory accredited as a World Health Organization regional HIV drug resistance laboratory for the Asia Pacific region.

  • Cyclone Nargis sees an expansion of the Burma program to become Burnet’s largest overseas operation.

  • A landmark study into binge drinking among AFL players leads to significant focus and review of policy.

  • Burnet Institute re-brands with a new-look logo and tag line - Medical Research, Practical Action, which reflects the global nature of our research and public health activities and the translational and practical nature of our work.


  • The importance of astrocytes in the development of HIV-related dementia is identified leading to a paradigm shift in understanding HIV-1 neuropathogenesis.

  • A low-cost test to identify drug resistance within HIV-infected patients is developed.


  • Low cost point of care CD4+ T cell assay developed. This hand-held test can be used in the field by a non-medically trained community health worker.

  • Burnet ImmunoMonitoring Facility achieves NATA (R&D) accreditation to develop and perform validated immunoassays.

  • With the development of level 7 of the Alfred Centre the merger with the Austin Institute is completed with all research groups are located on site.

  • Approx 10 per cent of sexually active gay males in Melbourne are identified as HIV positive, with 20 per cent of these people unaware of their status.

  • The mechanism of HIV latency in resting cells is identified, which opens the way for further development around the possibility of a ‘cure’ for HIV infection.

  • Identification of a protein export mechanism in the malaria parasite leads to new drug target opportunities.

  • A commissioned report into Safe Injecting Facilities, leads to prolific community debate around a safe injecting facility for Melbourne.


  • Centre for Population Health, in collaboration with researchers from other institutes, universities and organisations, was awarded prestigious NMHRC Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) funding to establish CREIDU - the Centre for Research Excellence into Injecting Drug Use.

  • Professor James Beeson and host team of malariologists join Burnet with Professor Beeson appointed Head of the Centre for Immunology.

  • Malaria research increased its capacity significantly with a AUD$750,000 grant from the Ian Potter Foundation to fit out new malaria research facilities.

  • A capacity crowd filled BMW Edge in Melbourne to hear Nobel Laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi present the 2011 Burnet Oration. In 2008, together with Luc Montagnier who was the director of her laboratory at the Institut Pasteur in the early 80s, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 1983.

  • VISITECT® CD4 affordable point-of-care (POC) test
    The Institute’s CD4 T cell test was showcased in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) flagship publication, Ten of the Best Research Projects 2011.


  • Sir Zelman Cowen Fellowship Fund launched
    The Fund named in honour of the late Sir Zelman Cowen, former Governor-General of Australia and Patron of the Burnet Institute, will provide support to Australian researchers with a focus on improving women’s and children’s health, especially in resource-poor settings.

  • Professor Brendan Crabb elected President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI).


  • Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies research program launched
    The landmark project aims to provide life-saving health care for women and children through translational and community research in Papua New Guinea.

  • Centre for Biomedical Research created
    The Centres for Virology and Immunology are merged to create a highly competitive, innovative and cutting edge environment for more than 120 researchers and students.

  • Centre for International Health receives first-ever NHMRC grant
    The AUD$900,000 grant to address HIV novel point-of-care (POC) tests and early infant diagnosis in Papua New Guinea and China.

  • Burnet researchers move a step closer to finding a cure for HIV by luring the ‘sleeping’ virus out of infected cells.

  • PRONTO! - Australia’s first shop front rapid-HIV testing clinic - opens in Melbourne. A Burnet collaboration wth the Victorian AIDS Council and Victorian Department of Health.


  • Burnet announces the TAP (treatment as prevention) Study, a multi-million dollar collaborative study into the effectiveness of new hepatitis C medications in a community setting.

  • Tenth year of the Sex Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll survey of risk behaviour among more than 10,000 young people in Melbourne.


  • Burnet ImmunoMonitoring Facility merges with Innoviron to form 360biolabs offering quality-assured laboratory services to support clinical trials and develop therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics.

  • Nanjing BioPoint R&D laboratory facility officially opened in China to develop low-cost diagnostic tests.

  • Discovery of malaria-blocking immune response by Professor James Beeson and his laboratory team opens the door for a malaria vaccine.

  • Researchers from the Tachedjian Laboratory discover building blocks for new drug classes to prevent and treat HIV.


  • Burnet Institute celebrates 30 years of discovery research excellence and public health impact
  • More than 400 scientists, researchers and public health professionals involved in discovery-based medical research and public health programs.


  • Burnet Institute began a new era in its history with its transformation to a program-led organisation.

  • Five new thematic research programs launched - Maternal and Child Health, Disease Elimination, Behaviours and Health Risks, Health Security and Healthy Ageing.

  • The Burnet Diagnostics Initiative (BDI) lab won a prestigious Longitude Prize Discovery Award to aid development of a laboratory-based assay into a point-of-care test to diagnose sepsis.

  • Burnet publicly endorsed marriage equality, in the lead up to the same-sex marriage survey which ultimately saw marriage laws changed in Australia.

  • Medical diagnostics company Omega Diagnostics announced with Burnet Institute the commercial release of its VISITECT® CD4 point-of-care test, which enables easier monitoring of CD4 T cell levels in HIV patients.


  • Received the largest philanthropic grant in the Institute’s history to progress our flagship hepatitis C elimination program with our national partners.

  • Achieved full five-year accreditation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Aid) as a non-government organisation.

  • Founded and co-chaired the inaugural Malaria World Congress (MWC 2018)

  • Established strong programs and government support for the elimination of HIV, malaria and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

  • Oversaw remarkable growth in our clinical trials support company, 360biolabs.

  • Burnet farewells esteemed HIV researcher, former head of the Centre for Virology, and Program Director of Healthy Ageing, Professor Suzanne Crowe AM, after 30+ years with the Institute.

  • Burnet launches qDO, the Quick Development of Solutions Lab, to fast-track innovative technologies through early proof-of-concept and feasibility stages.


  • Newborn sepsis which causes high rates of mortality in Papua New Guinea, is the focus of a new collaboration between Burnet Institute and Glaxo Smith Kline.

  • Burnet-led study identifies key antigens produced by malaria infection that the immune response targets to clear the infection and prevent malaria disease. Study published in Nature Communications.

  • Mr Rob Milne retires as Chair and a long-serving Director at Burnet, leaving a remarkable legacy of 19 years of service. Ms Mary Padbury becomes the new Chair, the first woman to lead the Institute.

  • A landmark Burnet-led study by Dr Pete Azzopardi reveals the world’s adolescents are encountering greater health challenges, unmet needs and growing inequality. Published in The Lancet.

  • NHMRC Research Excellence Award for sepsis diagnostic test, led by Associate Professor David Anderson.

  • Burnet’s new Physical Containment Level 3 (PC3) laboratory is opened.

Contact Details

Burnet Institute

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