New committees to steer medical research funds

Brandon How

The funding strategies of the federal government’s flagship health and medical research funds, which collectively award more than $1.5 billion in grants every year, are set to become more uniform with the arrival of several new joint advisory committees.

The existing National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Research Committee, which recommends how grants should be allocated through the NHMRC’s Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA), will also have its remit extended to the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

The new structures aim to improve alignment and coordination between the MREA and the MRFF. The changes were announced on Friday, with nominations for positions on the new and existing committees to close at the end of July.

The NHMRC and the Department of Health and Aged Care are working to improve alignment and coordination of the two funds while the government finalises its formal response to a public consultation on new governance and administration arrangements.

In June last year, three models of coordination were proposed, including a potential merge of the MREA and MRFF for administration by the NHMRC.

Two of the NHMRC’s principal committees will have new joint responsibilities over the MREA and the MRFF.

The Research Committee advises on the “quality and scope of health and medical research in Australia”, which will include application of the MRFF in addition to its current advice on the MREA, according the NHMRC.

Meanwhile, the Australian Health Ethics Committee “advises on ethical issues relating to health and develop human research guidelines”.

The existing MRFF expert advisory panels, which currently guide MRFF Research Missions, advise on priority areas for investment and undertake reviews and evaluations, will also provide some support to the MREA.

Four new NHMRC-MRFF joint advisory committees will advise the administrators of the two funds on research strategies and funding policies. They are:

  • NHMRC-MRFF Consumer Advisory Group – which will advise on consumer and community involvement in health and medical research, including on strengthening consumer involvement in MREA and MRFF grant programs
  • NHMRC-MRFF Industry, Philanthropy and Commercialisation Committee – which will advise on industry and philanthropic involvement in health and medical research and strategies to foster greater research commercialisation
  • NHMRC-MRFF Public Health and Health Systems Committee – which will advise on strategies for strengthening preventive health, public health, primary care and health services, and for embedding research translation in the Australian health system
  • NHMRC-MRFF Indigenous Advisory Group – which will advise on health research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and capacity building for health researchers who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

NHMRC chief executive Professor Steve Wesselingh said the new structure will “harmonise and nationalise the administration of health and medical research in Australia”.

“Better alignment and coordination of the MRFF and NHMRC will see the best of both funds come to fruition and strengthen Australia’s world-leading research capability to change and improve the health and lives of Australians,” Professor Wesselingh said.

“This is a significant step forward in our shared mission to address pressing health challenges and this collaborative approach leverages our combined expertise to drive innovation and improve health outcomes for all Australians.”

Nadia Levin, the chief executive and managing director of health and medical research and innovation representative body Research Australia welcomed the drive for closer coordination.

“Achieving better coordination is essential for a nationally unified, strategic approach to health and medical research investment,” Ms Levin said.

“This can bring clarity to funding availability at every stage of the research pipeline, ensuring smarter investment in Australia’s world-leading health and medical research and innovation sector.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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