Johnny Kahlbetzer family philanthropic gift has transformational impact on lung cancer research at the Garvan Institute

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has received a significant gift of $9.75m in memory of the late Mrs Virginia Kahlbetzer. The gift was made by Kahlbetzer Investments Pty Ltd, which is managed by Mrs Kahlbetzer’s son, Johnny Kahlbetzer, and will transform the Garvan Institute’s lung cancer research program.

L-R: Prof Neil Watkins, Mr Johnny Kahlbetzer, Mrs Donna Kahlbetzer and Prof John Mattick

Media Release: 21 June 2016

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has received a significant gift of $9.75m in memory of the late Mrs Virginia Kahlbetzer.  The gift was made by Kahlbetzer Investments Pty Ltd, which is managed by Mrs Kahlbetzer’s son, Johnny Kahlbetzer, and will transform the Garvan Institute’s lung cancer research program. 

Mrs Kahlbetzer began supporting Garvan’s world-class cancer research program in 2001, in memory of her late father who died of lung cancer. Her support continued for more than a decade, with particular focus on lung cancer – a neglected area of medical research.  In fact, Mrs Kahlbetzer was the driving force behind Garvan’s important lung cancer research.  

Sadly, Mrs Kahlbetzer was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2012, and passed away in August 2013.

Mr Kahlbetzer’s gift, in tribute to his mother, will fund research aimed at improving chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer, as well as advancing the use of immunotherapy, an emerging approach to treating cancer using the body’s own immune system. 

This research will utilise Garvan’s state-of-the-art genomic technology to sequence and interpret the mutations in each lung cancer, and will monitor the cellular and immune response to those cancer mutations.  This will help researchers to tackle the variables involved in how each individual responds to treatment, and improving the rates of remission and cure.

Advances in lung cancer treatment are desperately needed. Lung cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia – it is estimated that this year alone, more than 12,000 Australians will be diagnosed with this disease. It is also estimated that more than 8,800 Australians will lose their life to lung cancer, making it the most common cause of cancer death in Australia.ⁱ Around 10 per cent of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked, and this figure is on the rise.

Non-smoking related lung cancers have causes including (but not limited to) exposure to radiation, and carcinogenic substances. Other risk factors include gender (females tend to have a higher risk of developing lung cancer that is not associated with tobacco smoking) and a family history of non-tobacco smoking related lung cancer.

This gift will help fund Garvan’s research into what causes non-tobacco smoking lung cancer to develop and progress, as well as finding ways to better treat, or ideally prevent this particular form of the disease.

Professor David Thomas, Head of Garvan's Cancer Division, and Director of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre says, “We are excited by the research possibilities this gift provides to Garvan’s scientists.  It will allow us to expand our existing lung cancer program, which was initially made possible thanks to Mrs Kahlbetzer’s generosity. 

“The promising area of immunotherapy is also something we will be focusing on.  Along with melanoma, lung cancer has been one of the first cancers in which immunotherapy has emerged as a powerful third pillar of treatment.”

The gift will also help Garvan expand its capacity in Single Cell Genomics. This will not only help Garvan researchers, but researchers around the country to develop a detailed understanding of how the genomes and gene expression of individual cells in the brain, the immune system and other organs change over the course of a lifetime. It will also help researchers increase their understanding of how cancers, autoimmune diseases, dementia and other conditions develop, and how to design new strategies for prevention and treatment.

Mr Andrew Giles, Chief Executive of the Garvan Research Foundation says, “Mrs Kahlbetzer’s commitment to Garvan’s research was not just financial.  She followed the team’s progress with great interest.  Her donations often came quite unexpectedly, but were always well-timed and provided enormous encouragement and support to the research team.

“Mrs Kahlbetzer is remembered fondly as a great friend of the Garvan Institute, and her encouragement of our researchers was truly remarkable.

“In recognition of Mrs Kahlbetzer’s support, she was named as a Life Governor. The Kahlbetzer family have also been named Life Governors in recognition of this significant, and transformational gift.”

Mr Johnny Kahlbetzer is delighted to continue his mother’s commitment to Garvan’s lung cancer research.  “My mother Virginia wanted to ensure that her support had the greatest possible impact, so her philanthropy was extremely focused.  She was truly passionate about finding a cure for this terrible disease. 

“My family is very enthusiastic to continue this support, as a tribute to my mother. My father and I are also thrilled to know that two generations of our family have now contributed to improving treatment outcomes for future generations impacted by lung cancer.”



Media contact:

Kylie Ironside
Head of Communications
Garvan Research Foundation
Ph. 02 9295 8116 or Mbl. 0413 611 959

ⁱ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books. Lung cancer: AIHW.