NSW Premier Morris Iemma and businessman and philanthropist Frank Lowy today turned the first sod at the site of the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The Centre will be an Australian first, bringing together childhood and adult cancer research at the one site.

The $100 million-plus facility will house up to 400 researchers from UNSW and Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) to be one of the largest dedicated cancer research centres in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mr Lowy and family have agreed to donate $10 million toward the cost of the new building - the largest single philanthropic donation ever received by the University.

In addition to the Lowy gift and University resources, other funding has come from individual donors, trusts and foundations as well as grants awarded to CCIA by the NSW State Government ($18.3m); the Commonwealth Government ($13.3m); and most recently a grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation ($3.1m) to establish a Drug Discovery Centre within the new building.

"Cancer is the number one killer in NSW, so it's got to be our number one research priority," Mr Iemma said.

"The NSW Government is investing more than $1 billion annually on cancer care in NSW and over the next four years we'll spend $96 million on cancer research.

"I thank the Lowy family for their generous donation to this outstanding facility and am pleased to say the Government is investing more than $18 million in the facility to enhance our fight against this terrible disease."

UNSW Chancellor Mr David Gonski thanked the NSW and Commonwealth governments for their support and highlighted the significance of the Lowy family's contribution.

He said the naming of the Centre recognised the standing of the Lowy family in the community and at the University. Eleven members of the family are UNSW alumni.

"We are enormously grateful to the Lowy family for their generous donation, which has made the construction of this building possible," he said.

"This is a world-class facility that I believe will help put Australia at the forefront of efforts to find cures for childhood and adult cancers."

UNSW is a leader in the field of adult cancer research with internationally recognised medical scientists such as Professors Philip Hogg, Robyn Ward and Levon Khachigian. They will be teamed at the new Centre with CCIA's renowned childhood cancer researchers, including Professors Michelle Haber, Murray Norris and Glenn Marshall.

Dean of UNSW's Faculty of Medicine Professor Peter Smith said the Centre's integrated approach is revolutionary.

"The opportunity to create a nexus between childhood and adult cancers is unique. There is no obvious reason why we should make a demarcation at 15," Professor Smith said.

Professor Smith said the Centre would bring research at the bench that much closer to practice at the bedside.

"The Centre will facilitate clinical trials through its links and proximity to the Randwick medical precinct - and the two sites will be fully integrated with state-of-the-art data management. The data will include information from all the cancer registries from around the country, which could feed into an individual's treatment.

"We could have an individual with bowel cancer who has an operation at the Prince of Wales Hospital and a sample of that cancer is taken for analysis in the laboratory," said Professor Smith.

"The patient may then go into a clinical trial at the hospital and the data from the analysis of their cancer, from epidemiological analysis from the community and from the appropriate cancer registry would be put together to choose the best treatment for the patient."

Executive director of the CCIA, Professor Michelle Haber said the new Centre is a major boost to those working in the field of medical research.

"The wonderful support that we have received is a testament to the importance the community and Government place on the role of world-class medical research in finding answers that will go a long way to saving the lives of all children with cancer and eliminating their suffering," she said.

The Lowy Cancer Research Centre will be completed by 2009.

Artists impressions of the building are available upon request.

UNSW media contact: Susi Hamilton (02) 9385 1583Mobile: 0422 934 024