Research Australia calls for strategic coordination of funding for health and medical research

Health Industry Hub | October 11, 2021 |
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Medical: Research Australia, the national peak body for health and medical research, is launching a national consultation around Australia’s health and medical research efforts to explore ideas designed to better meet the needs of researchers, industry, state and territory health systems and the patients they look after.

The online consultation campaign, Health and Medical Research – Australia can do better! calls for a clearer picture of what health and medical research is underway around Australia to best direct resources in alignment with health priorities and further support the sector.

Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin said Australia has long boasted a proud record of medical and health research and innovation, but this can only yield a commercial return if researchers and industry work together, even better if government seed funding gives them a jump start.

“All too often such opportunities are lost or missed due to a poorly coordinated national approach to medical and health research and innovation.

“Australia has a proud track record of medical science innovation, supported by the public, private and philanthropic sectors, in finding solutions to complex social, economic and health challenges but reform is needed.

“COVID has demonstrated unequivocally the value of medical research – from breakthrough basic sciences research that established the basis for mRNA vaccines through to rapid research responses to identify promising treatments – but the pandemic has also revealed the need for reform to meet the needs and challenges of an impacted health and medical research sector,” Ms Levin said.

The consultation paper notes that while the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), Australian Research Council (ARC) and other programs provide strong funding for projects at particular stages, there is not seamless support for research and innovation from concept to delivery. There are too many barriers to collaboration between publicly funded researchers, the private sector and the health system.

“Australia now has the opportunity to create a stronger health and medical research sector by fostering jobs growth in advanced manufacturing and job security for researchers, opening up new global export markets and delivering better health outcomes at home and abroad.”

Ground-breaking medical research work in areas as diverse as vaccine application, diabetes and arthritis provide examples of Australian medical research that has led to real and effective innovation with international impact, as well as a return on investment to the country’s bottom line.

Ms Levin said a National Health and Medical Research Strategy guided by a national body to better coordinate existing funding programs lays at the heart of the consultation reform proposals.

“With a clearer picture of Australian health and medical research funding, we can begin to understand instances of duplication of research efforts, gaps in the research funding pipeline, and identify areas of national strength and global competitive advantage,” Ms Levin said.

Beyond the economic benefits of conversion of research into development of effective products and services, Research Australia is pushing to put patients and the public at the centre of a new approach as co-designers of research, leading to better health outcomes.

While standard community consultations under the MRFF may invite consumers to respond on the decision-making process, they do not take a consumer-centred approach. For example, the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board (AMRAB) consults the public about MRFF priorities every two years. Members of the public are welcome to make submissions which are required to align with specific criteria set out under the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy and the Medical Research Future Fund Act 2015. This top-down approach is an important step in the policy making process but does not create an accessible opportunity for consumers to contribute to the decision-making process.

After the online consultation program launch this week, Research Australia will run virtual working groups to delve further into key issues arising from this consultation feedback.

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