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Our history

Our journey started more than 50 years ago with a vision for world-class independent medical research here in Wellington, New Zealand.

In 1966 a group of far-sighted New Zealanders set a course for world-class independent medical research to be carried out right here. In 2016, we celebrated 50 years of achievements in cancer, asthma, allergy, gut health and other research.

The concept of a Wellington-based, independent medical research institute was first proposed in the early 1960s. At that time, relatively little medical research was carried out in New Zealand due to a lack of facilities and support by hospital boards.  

Using funds from a trust established by the Wellington Medical Research Foundation and the Wellington Division of the Cancer Society, the Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute was opened on 26 July 1979, in rented premises in the Wellington School of Medicine.

In 1986, the name of the institute was changed to the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in recognition of the generous support of Len and Ann Malaghan. 

Two decades later, the institute relocated to a purpose-built facility at Victoria University of Wellington. 

Through challenging times of funding shortfalls and the 'brain drain' taking our talented young scientists overseas, we have held to our original commitment to quality of work, honesty of purpose and strength of endeavour.

Len and Ann Malaghan

Len Malaghan was born in 1906 and had a keen eye for business. As a young man, he was a cheese and butter maker at the Tapanui Co-Operative Dairy Factory and qualified to be a manager at age 20. Considered too young at the time, he was given the opportunity to train under a visiting ice cream manufacturer from the United States.

This opportunity led to a passion for ice cream and in 1936 Len and his business partner opened a milk bar in Wellington specialising in ice cream and milkshakes. That humble enterprise took Wellington by storm and expanded to what we know today as Tip Top Ice Cream.

Len was joint managing director when the Auckland and Wellington branches of the company merged to become General Foods Corporation and was listed on the New Zealand Stock exchange. He was also on the board of J Watties Canneries.

At the peak of his career Len was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer originating from white blood cells called lymphocytes. During his treatment Len recognised the value of medical research, so he and Ann established a medical research trust by gifting shares in their company to the Wellington Medical Research Foundation. This was used to establish the Len and Ann Malaghan Medical Research Trust and the Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute, later renamed the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

While Len passed away at the age of 61, Ann went on to make further generous donations to the institute.

Their children and grandchildren continue their legacy with both their son Graham, who served as Chairman for thirty years, and grandson Matthew, who served as a member of the Board of Trustees for more than a decade. Other family members have played an important role in various fundraising initiatives for the institute.

On 18 July 2007 Len Malaghan was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame.