A New Zealand research team on the cusp of a cancer breakthrough has been gifted a significant financial boost thanks to the world's oldest fraternal organisation.
Over the next two years, Freemasons New Zealand will donate $600,000 to support the Wellington-based Malaghan Institute's world-leading CAR-T cell therapy research.
For Freemasons' grand master Mark Winger the partnership was a no-brainer, with his organisation dedicated to improving the lives of Kiwis nationwide in any way they can.
"Everyone knows someone who has suffered cancer or is suffering."
In its simplest form, CAR T-cell therapy works to reprogram immune cells to recognise and kill cancer.
The Freemasons-funded research programme will work towards improving the institute's existing CAR-T cell therapies while also helping researchers ultimately extend them to be able to treat other cancers.
The significant donation is not uncommon for the organisation, with Winger estimating it gave an average of $10 million a year towards projects which "added value" to New Zealand society.
The money, he said, came directly from the Freemasons themselves, rather than from public fundraising efforts.
"When we say we're giving money away, that means the Freemasons are giving their own money to projects," Winger said.
"Some of that has been built up over the last 125 years so every year [members] salt a little bit away and build up capital ... We've got a number of trusts and retirement villages which have millions of dollars of assets.
"We're not some sort of secret, weird society. We're actually people who are making a real positive difference in New Zealand."
He said the Wellington-based programme would complement two other major medical research programmes – neurology and paediatrics – that the Freemasons supported in Auckland and Dunedin respectively.
"Medical research programmes like these help to make the world a better and kinder place for all of us, and that's something all Freemasons aspire to."
Malaghan Institute director Professor Graham Le Gros said the new partnership was "key to driving momentous change" and would provide a vital financial boost to the institute's ongoing research.
"As an independent research organisation and charity, the Malaghan Institute relies on support from the community and the generosity of organisations like Freemasons. Its support, along with that of other organisations, will allow us to accelerate the availability of this ground-breaking treatment in New Zealand."
The $600,000 figure, which had been calculated by Le Gros and his team, would give them the wherewithal to "really do it."
"It's that extra bit to help us meet the challenges that come with bringing a cutting-edge innovative therapy here.
"This has not been invented yet, we have to do it ourselves here."
The Freemasons' contribution, while not directly connected, sat well alongside another campaign led by cancer survivor David Downs to bring the experimental, and notoriously expensive CAR-T cell therapy to New Zealand.
Winger had met Downs and said the two campaigns, while a coincidence, were perfect bedfellows with the end goal the same – giving Kiwis access to the best cancer treatments possible.
Off the back of the two campaigns, Le Gros said the institute was aiming to undertake a clinical trial in 2019 to test the safety and efficacy of a new version of CAR T-cell therapy.