​Great minds don't always think alike

The Florey is named to honour Professor Sir Howard Walter (Baron) Florey OM, who was an Australian pharmacologist and pathologist. Born in Adelaide in 1898, he is considered to be one of our greatest scientists.

Professor Sir Howard Walter (Baron) Florey OM
Howard Florey shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Sir Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for his role in the making of penicillin. Fleming first observed the antibiotic properties of the mould that makes penicillin, but it was Chain and Florey who developed it into a useful treatment, with Florey conducting the first ever clinical trials of penicillin at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford in 1941. Florey died in Oxford in 1968.

The origins of the institute are based on the 1947 work of the founder, Professor Derek Denton AC, and a team of pioneering scientists including Professor Sir Roy Douglas 'Pansy' Wright, Professor John Coghlan AO and Professor Marelyn Wintour-Coghlan AO. Discoveries into the role of salt and water balance in health and disease placed the institute on the world stage.

Major philanthropists helped bring the Florey to life in 1960 when, according to The Age on May 3:

'Two leading Melbourne businessmen have guaranteed ... that they will raise 150,000 pounds to assist medical research. The money will be used to build a research block. The deputy chairman and joint managing director of Myer Emporium Ltd., Mr Kenneth Myer, and the senior partner in a Melbourne stockbroking firm, Mr Ian Potter...will underwrite the sum of not less than 150,000 pounds.'

Along with Kenneth Myer and Ian Potter, Denton, a renowned fundraiser, attracted interest from philanthropists around the world.

Dinner following a Board Meeting of the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine in 1971. From left to right: Sir Ernest Coates, Sir John Phillips, Prof R Douglas (Pansy) Wright, Sir Ian Potter, Mr S Baillieu Myer, Mr Ray D. Marginson, Dr H.C. Coombs, Prof Leslie J. Ray, (seated) Dr Derek Denton, Dame Hilda Stevenson, Mr Kenneth Myer. Absent was Mr Evelyn de Rothschild

Later developments

The Florey has undergone many changes over the years - in name and focus. Originally named the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine, it has also been affectionately known as the Sheep Hilton by the few Melburnians who knew a flock of merino sheep were housed in the original building in Parkville on the edge of the city.

Professor Frederick Mendelsohn AO, Florey Director from 1997-2007
Fast forward to 1997 when Director Professor Frederick Mendelsohn AO, recognised the need to broaden the focus of the institute to encompass brain disorders - an emerging field of endeavour requiring urgent attention as medicine demanded answers to some of the most difficult diseases to crack.

The focus on neuroscience proved to be a visionary evolution and the institute has continued to grow and attract significant support ever since. The Florey amalgamated with the Mental Health Research Institute, the National Stroke Research Institute and the Brain Research Institute building a powerhouse of discovery and funding.

Today, our teams work on a range of serious diseases including stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease, traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, depression, schizophrenia, mental illness and addiction. We are world leaders in imaging technology, stroke rehabilitation and epidemiological studies.

Over the past 10 years research into the brain and its diseases has gained considerable momentum internationally. Many scientific and technological advancements have been made, and much of our work has been centre stage. Our scientific home is a hive of activity with researchers coming from around the globe to work at the Florey.

The Florey is the largest brain research group in the Southern Hemisphere and is one of the world’s top five brain research centres. It is an independent medical research institute with strong connections to other research groups, globally. Our scientists are found at three research facilities, one on the grounds of the University of Melbourne in Parkville, one in the adjacent Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the other at Austin Health in Heidelberg.

Significantly, the Myer and Potter Foundations, along with other long-term supporters - continue their support of the Florey's work to this day.

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