Dr Christine De Nardo

Dr Christine De Nardo

Chief Operating Officer

As Chief Operating Officer, I lead and manage the Institute’s Research Support function and staff, which includes Finance, Procurement, Legal, Human Resources, Information Technology, Grants, Communications and Marketing, Philanthropy and Fundraising, Commercialisation and Laboratory and Facilities Management. With a strong focus on quality, productivity, and stakeholder relationships, my role is to facilitate the delivery of quality services which support the Institute in meeting its strategic, operational, compliance, and risk management objectives.

I completed my bachelor’s degree (Hons) in Biological Sciences at La Trobe University and a PhD in Life Sciences at The University of Melbourne. I bring over 15 years of experience to the role of COO, in research, operational management and leadership; across academic, medical research, and biotechnology sectors in both Australia and Germany.

My expertise spans a wide range of operational and managerial responsibilities including human resources, budgeting and finance, regulatory compliance, communications, planning, and resourcing. I have a strong track record in coordinating and managing complex, collaborative research programs, securing significant funding, and establishing strong partnerships within the industry.

Prior to joining the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, I was Manager for the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health and Sub-Faculty of Clinical and Molecular Medicine. I have also held the position of General Manager at a biotechnology start up, oNKo-innate Pty Ltd, where I oversaw substantial growth.


Dr Sonja Flott

Dr Sonja Flott

Chief Business Development Officer

I lead and manage the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute’s identification, development, and protection of intellectual property to facilitate innovation and commercialisation, which enables the Institute’s mission to discover and develop breakthrough cancer therapies.

I have a scientific background in cancer research, holding a PhD from the University of Dundee. Following this, I pursued postdoctoral research at the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, specialising in genome stability maintenance, DNA repair and DNA damage response signalling.

Furthermore, I have experience in business development across both industry and academia, 8 years of expertise in business development, portfolio management and product development at Abcam plc in Cambridge, and 5 years in commercialisation and business development at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne, focusing on the advancement of immuno-oncology technologies.


Prof Marco Herold

Prof Marco Herold

Chief Executive Officer, ONJCRI
Head, Genome Engineering and Cancer Modelling Program
Head, Blood Cancer and Immunotherapy Lab
Head, La Trobe University’s School of Cancer Medicine

My vision at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is to improve treatments and outcomes for cancer patients.

I am excited to lead our staff and students and ensure our people are collaboratively striving to make ground-breaking discoveries that can be translated into the clinic that will benefit cancer patients and deliver maximum benefit to the community.

I am a NHMRC L2 Investigator, an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and a former Broomhead Centenary Fellow.

I completed my PhD and first postdoctoral studies at the University of Würzburg, Germany, where I trained in cell death research and mouse genetics. During this time, I worked with the German Pharma Company Taconic Artemis developing methods to establish novel pre-clinical models of disease.

In 2008, I moved to Australia and joined the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) where I served as a Laboratory Head in the Blood Cells and Blood Cancer Division and Head of the Melbourne Genome Editing Centre (MAGEC). My research team specialised in applying CRISPR gene editing techniques to identify critical gene targets required for the development and sustained growth of cancer cells. Recent findings identified DNA repair as fundamental for TP53-mediated tumour suppression (Janic et al., Nature Medicine 2018).

My current research is focused on using advanced genome wide CRISPR screening, including gene activation and base editing in vitro and in vivo (Deng et al., Nature Communications, 2022). At ONJCRI we use these research techniques to amplify the research conducted within all our labs to discover drug resistance factors and targets that enhance immune therapies.

Since joining ONJCRI in 2023, my primary role as CEO of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) is to steer our Institute towards a new phase of growth and impact by achieving our strategic priorities. This includes fostering collaborations both within ONJCRI and with external entities while capitalising on existing strengths, assets, and successes of ONJCRI.


Deanne Aitken

Deanne Aitken

Human Resources Manager

A strategic, senior business partner with more than 25 years experience in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, focused on delivering improved business outcomes and supporting leaders to enable high performance culture. Skilled in the suite of HR/ER/OD services with extensive experience in talent acquisition, organisational design, strategy, employee engagement, cultural transformation, employee relations and leadership coaching.

As the Human Resources Manager, I lead and manage the Institute’s HR function, partnering with the executive and leadership teams to help shape an inclusive and impactful culture, where staff and students are engaged and can flourish.


Prof Hui Gan

Prof Hui Gan

Clinical Research Lead (ONJCRI Executive Team)
Clinician Scientist, Tumour Targeting Laboratory
Co-Director, Centre for Research Excellence in Brain Cancer
Director, Cancer Clinical Trials Centre, Austin Health

I completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Melbourne before training in the care of cancer patients and becoming a Fellow of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (Medical Oncology). I have a PhD from the University of Melbourne (Medicine), as well having completed Drug Development Fellowship at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto.

As a clinician at Austin Health, my main areas of responsibility are to care and manage patients with solid malignancies, particularly those with  tumours of the brain, and head and neck. I also lead the Phase 1 Program for patients seeking novel treatments after they have exhausted standard of care treatments. In addition to direct patient care, I am the Medical Director for Cancer Clinical Trials at the Austin Hospital.

As a clinician-scientist at the ONJCRI, my research interests include the development of novel drugs for cancer patients, especially those with brain tumours. Whilst working with many types of biological treatments, a key focus are the development of novel antibody based treatments, particularly those targeting tumour specific targets on the tumour surface and tumour microenvironment. I have played a substantial role in the translation of many such drugs into the clinic, including several targeting the ErbB and Eph receptor tyrosine kinases.


Prof Matthias Ernst

Prof Matthias Ernst

Head, Tumour Environment and Immunology Program
Head, Cancer and Inflammation Laboratory

Conducting research in close proximity to clinicians provides my group with an opportunity to use our scientific curiosity to address the most urgent needs of cancer patients.

After gaining my PhD at the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland, I received postdoctoral training at the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania in the area of bone biology.

With the aim of extending my studies into the molecular mechanisms which underpin the growth of cancer cells, I joined Prof Ashley Dunn’s laboratory at the Melbourne-Parkville Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR).

In 1996, I returned to Switzerland, to join Novartis as the Deputy Head for Bone Biology Research Department. I was invited back to LICR in 1998 as Group Leader and was appointed Acting Director in 2009.

In 2012, I moved to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, where I continued to explore state-of-the-art molecular biology and genetic tools to understand mechanisms which corrupt the normal renewal of the lining of the bowel and stomach, resulting in tumour formation. I joined ONJCRI in late 2014 and my laboratory team explores novel strategies to target mechanisms by which tumour cells and normal cells communicate and develop new treatments for gastrointestinal cancers.