BioTech translation gets a boost

Stuart Kennedy

The federal government hopes a new biomedical research centre will help overcome Australia’s less than stellar record at making something real from its basic research.

The deal announced Thursday sees the birth of the M2 precinct where CSIRO and Monash University cosy up to create a biomedical commercialisation centre. The arrangement includes the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP) and CSIRO’s new Biomedical Materials Translation Facility (BMTF).

Industry minister Arthur Sinodinos was on hand to talk up the facility which is housed on Monash uni’s Clayton, Victoria campus and give it a ‘jobs and growth’ spin.

“From life-changing cochlear implants, to life-saving vaccines, world-first 3D printed bone and tissue replacements, Australia has an incredible track record when it comes to medical technologies and pharmaceuticals,” Senator Sinodinos said.

“M2 will help to accelerate development of technology like this, not only vital for the improvement of the lives of Australians facing medial challenges, but also leading to job and economic growth for Australia.”

The facility aims to be a one-stop commercialisation shop for the more than 500 local medtechs, many of which are SMEs without the wherewithal to fast track promising research to market.

“When a company comes to us we can use CSIRO and MHTP facilities to develop and analyse production scale prototypes, whilst the Monash Biomedical Imaging facility can provide advanced pre-clinical and clinical testing and imaging,” said CSIRO Director of Manufacturing Dr Keith McLean.

The facility hopes to usher promising SME biomedical research through the translational phase where many projects bite the dust.

In a video accompanying CSIRO’s presser, Dr Gordon McPhee from MHTP describes the dangers of this ‘valley of death.’

“The translational phase is something that’s often referred to as the “valley of death” for potential medical treatment. It’s where you are in a research environment, you have promising results that you need to trial in humans, in phase one clinical trials in humans and that step has traditionally been very expensive, with clean room space being very limited,” Dr McPhee said.

Industry group the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) also hopes M2 will keep biomedical SMEs from an early demise in the valley of death.

“It’s acknowledged that the ‘valley of death’ between discovery and commercialisation is not just a problem in Australia, but around the world,” an AAMRI spokesperson said in a written statement.

“Initiatives such as M2 that bring people together to help accelerate the delivery of health benefits from research are vital to overcoming this. Both the Medical Research Future Fund and the Biomedical Translation Fund also offer new opportunities for Australia to be a world leader in research translation.

CSIRO, Monash and the government are keen for Australia to cash in on the burgeoning medical technologies and pharma market, which is expected to be worth almost $3 trillion by 2025 and could possibly add $18 billion and 28,000 new jobs to the Australian economy over the next eight years.

The facility may even help trim the country’s Medicare bill.

“This initiative will deliver real health benefits to all Australians. Our healthcare spending is expected to almost double to 16 per cent of GDP by 2040. Cheaper and more effective medical solutions are better for our health and Australia’s financial future,” said Monash University Provost and Senior Vice-President Professor Marc Parlange in a statement.

Senator Sinodinos had a busy day as he also announced Thursday a joint-venture with New Zealand that will see the Australian Synchrotron, which is operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), score $80.2 million in fresh funding.

The deal, which goes under the cute, techy moniker of Project BR-GHT sees the New Zealand Government and 10 New Zealand universities and research institutions get improved access to the Aussie synchrotron.

Getting the deal done was part of unlocking the $520 million over ten-year funding made available through the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) last year.

Some of that cash is contingent on ANSTO securing third party capital investment for new beamlines which are the instruments that carry beams of synchrotron radiation. The beamlines are optimised for different research fields such as advanced manufacturing, food, medical and energy resources.

In a rare bipartisan moment Labor’s shadow for innovation, industry, science and research Kim Carr was pleased about the ANZAC-ing of the synchrotron.

“Labor welcomes today’s announcement that funding has been secured for expansion of the Australian Synchrotron, one of the nation’s premier research facilities,” Senator Carr said in a statement.

But then came the slap.

“The Abbott/Turnbull Government have been dragged kicking and screaming to deliver long term funding certainty to the Synchrotron and the scientists who work there,” Senator Carr said.

“Great science needs funding certainty, and landmark national facilities deserve long term secure funding, free from the types of threats exhibited in 2014 when funding for national research infrastructure was threatened as a part of the government’s failed negotiation tactics in the Senate.”


Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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