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11 Jul 2022

Garvan celebrates Professor Chris Goodnow and his extensive contributions as Executive Director

Professor Goodnow FAA FRS steps down from Executive Directorship for health reasons after four years at the helm but to continue as senior Faculty and head of Hope Research program.

Garvan regretfully announces Professor Chris Goodnow’s resignation from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research Executive Directorship, due to heart health complications of COVID-19.

This event adds a personal dimension to Professor Goodnow’s efforts to help develop a better COVID-19 vaccine. He is one of the 3% of people who develop inflammation of the heart muscle as a consequence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This is one of many complications of COVID-19 not prevented by prior immunisation or infection and which invariably requires an extended convalescence. Professor Goodnow will, in time, return to play an important role in the future of Garvan as a senior member of Faculty and mentor to the next generation of scientists.

Professor Goodnow is recognised as one of Australia’s and the world’s pre-eminent scientists. He is the proud beneficiary of The Bill and Patricia Ritchie Foundation Chair and Professor and Director of the UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), and Member of the US National Academy of Sciences and has won numerous awards throughout his illustrious career, most recently receiving the prestigious American Association of Immunologists AAI-BioLegend Herzenberg Award recognising his outstanding contributions to the field of immunology.

Professor Goodnow took up the Deputy Director role at Garvan in February 2015, relocating his research from the Australian National University (ANU) and accepting a key Faculty appointment where he established the Immunogenomics Laboratory at Garvan. He was appointed Executive Director in mid-2018, succeeding Professor John Mattick AO FAA FTSE.

Over the course of four years Professor Goodnow has strengthened the Institute scientifically and financially. In partnership with the philanthropic community, UNSW, the Weizmann Institute and recently the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, he has helped build an environment for world-leading researchers to realise the power of DNA and genomics to better diagnose, treat and prevent disease.

During this period the Institute recruited to its leadership team dynamic young leaders of this new field including Professor Daniel MacArthur from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Associate Professor Sarah Kummerfeld from Genentech, Associate Professor Jodie Ingles from Sydney University, Dr Ira Deveson from the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics, and Associate Professor Owen Siggs from Flinders University. Two of the Institute’s young leaders, Associate Professors Marina Pajic and Owen Siggs, won prestigious eight-year Snow Medical Foundation Fellowships and many won the pre-eminent award from the NHMRC, a five-year Investigator grant.    

During Professor Goodnow’s more than four-year tenure as Executive Director, he has steered the organisation through great change and challenge with valiant determination and optimism. The COVID-19 pandemic was front and centre of these challenges, during which Professor Goodnow:

  • Showed extraordinary leadership in the face of unparalleled and protracted challenges presented by the pandemic, ensuring the Institute maintained its critical medical research with minimal interruption.
  • Galvanised Garvan’s scientists to quickly pivot to leverage existing research strengths in the fight against the pandemic, leading to a number of breakthroughs in the understanding of the virus, progressing rapid diagnosis and developing strategies for potential vaccines to fight the ever-evolving virus.
  • Served Garvan and the wider community as a national thought leader for the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and emphasising the criticalities of Australia adhering to the best in public health advice.

During his period as Executive Director, Professor Goodnow has continued to have global impact through his breakthrough medical research in antibodies, autoimmune diseases, and immune system regulation. He has co-authored 78 scientific papers during this time, making ground-breaking contributions to these fields. Some of Professor Goodnow’s proudest scientific achievements as Executive Director include:

  • Leading an interdisciplinary team using single-cell genomic analysis of autoimmune disease patients’ blood to publish a seminal paper in Cell providing direct evidence for Professor Goodnow’s >25 year hypothesis of the role of ‘rogue clones’ in causing autoimmune diseases; he showed that individual cells with driver genetic mutations normally found in lymphomas can escape immune checkpoints and cause autoimmune disease. Read more.
  • Co-ordinating an interdisciplinary team using whole-genome sequencing to reveal mutations in the CTLA-4 immune checkpoint as the cause of life-threatening autoimmune disease in Sydney children, providing the evidence to match these children with targeted therapies that have completely restored their health (Frontiers in Immunology 2019). Read more.
  • Co-leading a diverse team to reveal that a series of Sydney children with severe autoimmune disease have inherited an ancient DNA change in the TNFAIP3 immune checkpoint, which fires up immune responses, and is widespread and unique to people of Oceania, and was gifted to modern humans from the Denisovans, an extinct branch of Homo sapiens. (Nature Immunology 2019, equal co-authored with Shane Grey). Read more.
  • Revealing an entirely new immune checkpoint mechanism – clonal redemption – that prevents the body from making antibodies against itself while maximising the targeting of antibodies against foreign microbes and vaccines (Burnett 2018 Science and 2020 PNAS). Read more. 
  • In November 2021, published a ground-breaking strategy for the development of a ‘universal COVID-19 vaccine’, a strategy to generate future-proofed COVID-19 vaccines that can resist emergent new viral strains.

The decision to step down from the Executive Directorship does not alter Professor Goodnow’s ongoing commitment to Garvan and membership of Garvan Faculty, or his scientific career and ambitions for impact.  

Garvan will launch an international search for an Executive Director in due course and extends thanks and gratitude to Garvan’s Deputy Director, Professor Peter Croucher, for accepting the role of Interim Executive Director to steer the organisation over the coming months. The directors of Garvan and Garvan Research Foundation Boards also extend their most sincere best wishes to Professor Goodnow for his full recovery.   



Carolyn Barry – Communications Lead 
+61 (0)480 391 269