Founder Col Reynolds OAM wins prestigious 2024 Advocacy Award

Photo: (L-R) Nathalie McNeil, Vice President and General Manager, AbbVie ANZ, Dr Mike Freelander MP, Member for Macarthur, Col Reynolds, two highly commended winners; Mrs Catherine Hughes AM, Immunisation Foundation of Australia, WA, Professor Megan Munsie, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, VIC.

We are thrilled to announce The Kids' Cancer Project’s founder Col Reynolds OAM is the winner of Research Australia's 2024 Advocacy Award. Col received this prestigious honour at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards, a celebration of excellence in Australian health and medical research, held on Thursday 2 November at Doltone House, Hyde Park.

Sponsored by AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, the award recognises the exceptional contributions made by advocates who help raise community awareness and understanding of the importance of health and medical research. 

The event was attended by industry luminaries including Australia's Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley AO PSM, Head of Children’s Cancer Institute Professor Michelle Haber, and Chair of Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport Dr Mike Freelander MP. 

The greatest gift

On accepting his speech Col told the audience, which included some of our nation’s greatest scientific minds: "The greatest gift you can give a child with cancer is the gift of life and I don’t believe in that word impossible. So, you people and scientists in this room - you have dreams. I had a dream as a coach driver I wanted to make a difference and look what we've done!"

The room was riveted as Col shared his incredible story of finding his passion for childhood cancer research over 30 years ago when, as a tourist coach driver, he saw two children with cancer cross the road and enter the old Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown. 

"I parked the vehicle went into the hospital and said I wanted to do something for them." Starting with day trips and weekend trips to the snowfields, after a time Col knew something else was needed.

In the end I found too many kids were passing on. I’d go around at nighttime and tell the kids we were going to do this and that, and a nurse would come down on the day of departure and tell me sadly so many children had passed away. And that ate the daylights out of me. And I thought I couldn’t cope with this anymore.

Wanting to do more

Speaking with Dr Luciano Dalla-Pozza (now Head of the Cancer Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital, Westmead) Col was advised, "If you want to do something there are oncologists working in the basement trying to find an answer for cancer who have no funding."

"And when I went down to speak with them - and one of them is Roger Reddel (now the Director of Children's Medical Research Institute, The Children’s Hospital, Westmead). I bought that man his first minus 80 degrees Celsius freezer to freeze tumours and tissues and I bought him his first cancer cell counter."

Deciding he had to make a difference, he says his gift of the gab led him to raise funds for scientists and researchers, saying, "Honestly it's been the greatest thing I could have ever done."

That fateful stop led to the establishment of The Kids’ Cancer Project, which, since 2005 has invested $70 million dollars into 380 groundbreaking Australian research projects and is currently funding 57 scientists and 41 research projects across 26 institutions. 

Opening the door to a cure

Celebrating the anniversary of the charity he founded, Col is proud of all that’s been achieved, "This is our 30th year of funding childhood cancer and there are young up-and-coming scientists that have different innovative ideas. 

To encourage the best and brightest this year we have committed additional funding of $7.9 million dollars to support research fellowships and PhD scholarships throughout Australia. We want to give them a chance to open a door that will lead to a cure."

The ten inaugural Col Reynolds Fellows and four PhD Scholarship recipients were announced in August 2023. 

So, all you people and scientists in this room you have dreams - I had a dream as a coach driver - I wanted to make a difference - and look what we’ve done! But there's more to be done!

Celebrating research

The awards, celebrating 20 years this year, are given by the national peak body for Australian health and medical research, and celebrate the achievements throughout the entire health and medical research pipeline, recognising pioneers, innovators, and champions of health and medical research who may be in the lab, in a university, in a clinical environment, with a patient and their family or in a board room championing translation of science from imagination to reality. 

The Kids' Cancer Project warmly congratulates all the amazing nominees, finalists, and winners!