Investment in translational research welcome but NHMRC and ARC funding continue to decline

Health Industry Hub | April 1, 2022 |
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Medical: Research Australia, the national alliance for Australian health and medical research, has welcomed strategic investment in medical research and innovation announced in tonight’s Federal Budget while expressing concern at the lack of further investment in key funding streams, including the NHMRC and ARC.

Research Australia welcomed much-needed support for primary care research, the establishment of Genomics Australia and two new Rural Health Departments at Edith Cowan and Curtin Universities and a Rural Clinical School at Charles Sturt University.

“A framework to identify gaps and align future initiatives to support the biotechnology sector is also very good news and investment in mRNA further supports Australia as a global leader in RNA research,” Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin said.

“We need further significant investment like this if we are serious about innovation and creating future industries.

“We also applaud the continued investment in the MRFF Frontier Health and Medical Research initiative, which was designed by Research Australia in partnership with the Department of Health,” Ms Levin said.

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However, while these key announcements supporting health and medical research and innovation are great news, Ms Levin said there is a worrying continuation of the real terms decline in funding for both the ARC and NHMRC.

“This is of genuine concern to the health and medical research community, and it jeopardises our long-term research capability and increases the precariousness of research careers. The pandemic has shown us just how much we need these critical skills and they are not developed overnight. Research is a long term, sustained investment and these funding bodies are crucial to guiding our future,” Ms Levin said.

Professor John Shine, President of the Australian Academy of Science, said “It is disappointing that fundamental science capability is not recognised as the first essential step in the commercialisation effort, and there are no measures to boost basic research investment.

“This at a time when science is at the heart of every major issue being faced by our nation: the pandemic response; national security, mitigating and adapting to climate change; and recovering from flood and other extreme events.

“For scientists, the pandemic in Australia has brought about both great purpose and great uncertainty. Too many have been affected by reduced funding, job losses, increased workloads, and declining morale.

“Despite one-off funding for research and science during the pandemic, in 2021 the Australian Government’s investment in science was 0.56% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which is lower than comparable nations – and less than R&D investment in 2010.

Ms Levin added “It has real impacts for all Australians who rightly expect health and medical research to protect their health and it’s a missed opportunity to build new industries and skills creation in health as a sector.”

“The rising cost of living has been addressed in the Budget with cash payments, tax relief and cuts to the fuel excise however, increasing inflation also affects health and medical research, making the cost of undertaking research higher; and an insecure workforce means we are at risk of losing the skills of those we most need from a health and economic perspective” Ms. Levin said.

Addressing these issues are at the centre of Research Australia’s advocacy for a National Health and Medical Research Strategy, as announced by Minister Hunt at the Research Australia Awards in December.

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