The government-funded industry growth centre for the medtech, biotech and pharmaceutical sectors has achieved significant results in its first three years of existence, but its mission has just begun, according to its Chief Executive Dr Dan Grant.
MTPConnect was launched in late 2015 as part of the federal government’s Industry Growth Centres Initiative, with $5 million in funding per year to 2021.
It has the task of providing an independent voice for the sector, raising awareness, fostering collaboration and collating evidence and statistics.
The centre is now trying to convey to the government that it has already achieved significant results in these first years.
“We’ve successfully deployed capital into 37 programs that are having direct impacts on patients already, with economic returns and jobs growth. We’re having a direct impact and we’re starting to see that now,” Dr Grant told InnovationAus.com.
“Our one message to government would be that we’ve been particularly successful in our sector in promoting collaboration, access to markets, workforce skills and deploying programs.”
The centre has dished out $16.5 million in funding, connected with $25.7 million in match funding from the private sector, to a total of 37 projects so far.
It has also partnered and worked with several programs and business accelerators aiming to foster growth in the sector, and led a number of trade missions to overseas markets, including recently to a medtech conference in Philadelphia.
While there has already been proven results, growth will be exponential if funding is to continue at the centre, Dr Grant said.
“The medtech, biotech and pharma sector is one that takes a long time to deliver products.”
“As you watch our progress and success in the years to come, those numbers of new technologies, new jobs and new companies that we’ve helped to create will only increase. The medtech, biotech and pharma sector is one that takes a long time to deliver products. Keeping that in mind our projects are at a very early-stage, and some have just started,” he said.
The centre’s success will ultimately be measured by how many patients are positively impacted by its work and programs that it has supported, he said.
“The sector has great potential for Australia with jobs growth and economic growth, but ultimately those will only happen if we’re delivering value to patients. We need to have that patient-centric focus on delivering value to them. It’s all part of the knowledge economy and building Australia’s future,” Dr Grant said.
“We’re starting to see that and some of the companies are starting to have an impact on patients specifically. That’s one of the big things about the sector that i’m really passionate about – impacting patients. For the sector to be successful we have to have positive impacts on patients, and the programs are starting to do that.”
The not-for-profit organisation is tasked with accelerating the rate of growth of the medical technologies, biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals sector, specifically in terms of commercialisation, collaboration and establishing Australia as a regional hub for the sector.
It has four key areas of focus: increasing collaboration and commercialisation, improving management and workforce skills, improving access to global supply chains and international markets and optimising the regulatory environment.
The much-discussed skills gap has also hit these sectors, Dr Grant said, and addressing this has been a key focus for the growth centre recently.
“The biomed, biotech and pharma sector is a sector that is rapidly changing. Any sector with rapid change you have a need for a rapid uptake of new skills. The sector is experiencing the skills gap and having to work through that. In order to continue to compete in a rapidly developing sector we have to find ways to build skills, attract skills and retain skills,” he said.
MTPConnect has partnered with the Bridge Program to provide training to participants, particularly in intellectual property, markets and other important areas.
“That is really starting to help our early career researchers in academic organisations understand translation, understand the market and start to develop business skills so we should see a much better outcome in the years to come,” Dr Grant said.
It’s been two years since MTPConnect unveiled its Sector Competitiveness Plan, a 10-year strategy plan to “boost the innovation, productivity and competitiveness of Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector”.
A key element of the plan was to grow the number of jobs in the sector from 57,000 to 73,000 by 2026. Recent statistics show this number has already risen to 63,000, Dr Grant said.
Dr Grant is able to easily rattle off a list of local MTP companies that have achieved great successes internationally already, with support from the industry growth centre.
There’s Elastagen, a University of Sydney spin-off that was acquired by global pharma firm Allergen earlier this year for $120 million upfront, and the well known names such as Cochlear and Spinifex.
“All of these things are adding to our ability to build the knowledge-based economy. That’s really important as we move forward. More and more startup companies are becoming viable from the work these companies are doing,” he said.
A key role of the government’s growth centres is to act as the middleman or moderator between the industry and the policy-makers. Dr Grant said MTPConnect is working closely to convey the needs of the sector to the regulators.
“There are always challenges in rapidly transitioning sectors for regulatory organisations to keep up. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is very much on the forefront of this and engaged with all new technologies coming through,” Dr Grant said.
“We’re working with them at the moment on regulatory excellence for the digital health sector, and understanding what regulatory pathways need to be in place, and understanding what pathways are in place already and how to take advantage of them.
“The regulatory environment in Australia is a strategic advantage for Australian companies – it’s a strong environment that is accessible.
“We are well positioned as a global player – we need to make sure we’re aligned with other organisations internationally so we are in a position where technology is being taken up around the world.”
The centre has also been on a mission to drive real cultural change in the sector, with a key focus in improving commercialisation of Australia’s wealth of ideas.
“There has been a big cultural change in Australia over the last 10 to 15 years that needs to continue – the idea that the translation of our research is critical. That started in the late 90s to early 2000s and it’s still continuing – we still have some work to do,” Dr Grant said.
“It’s about seeing the end user as an important component of research – and researchers are now really buying into that. There’s huge interest in understanding the consumers. That’s probably the biggest cultural change that has happened, and is still ongoing.”
Intellectual property is particularly crucial for any medical-focused tech companies, and Dr Grant said that while companies in the space seem to have a good knowledge of its importance, many are not capitalising on the potential early enough.
“There’s more work to make sure we have appropriate strategies and approaches to IP. Often the pharmaceutical industry does not patent things until much later on – it’s a different situation in research institutions – they put patents in because of the need to publish and disclose,” he said.
“There’s some education to be done there to make sure we are capitalising on the IP we generate as quickly as we can.”
There also needs to be an effort to ensure valuable IP is kept in Australia and commercialised locally.
“There’s a good understanding of the importance of helping to promote it and capitalise on it. It’s more than just patenting it, it’s translating it into commercial activities and making sure that it is of interest to the industry. We want to keep bits of IP in Australia longer so we see the benefits of clinical trials being done in Australia,” Dr Grant said.