The lucrative job of national research

Dan Grant

We’ve been served up a slew of new metrics in recent weeks about Australia’s performance on research and innovation relative to the rest of the world.

In 2019, Australia ranked 22nd on the Global Innovation Index, even though since 2014 it has ranked 10th to 15th for innovation inputs.

During the same period, our innovation outputs fell from 22nd in 2014 to 31st in 2018 and 2019, to sit just behind Slovenia.

We’ve also had some hotly contested figures from the OECD on levels of R&D investment.

While these measures are not sector-specific, they do underscore the importance of the public policy objective of lifting the innovation outputs that are derived from our research.

Australia has a vibrant research sector supported by world-class infrastructure, yet our commercialisation productivity continues to decline.

And while some chose to debate the merits or otherwise of various R&D tax incentives, I would like to put in a word for the researchers, startups and risk-takers who continue to work on translating their ideas into sought-after commercial outputs.

They are passionate, creative, committed and export-oriented – and there are more of them than you’d think.

In the next few weeks MTPConnect, the growth centre for the medtech, biotech, pharma and digital health sector, will take a delegation of Australian innovators to the MedTech Conference in the United States.

It’s the biggest event of the year on the global medtech calendar and we’re being supported by the state governments of Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland and key organisations like the Medical Technology Association of Australia and AusBiotech.

About 30 participants representing 26 companies, research institutes, universities and start-ups will be joining us in Boston. They will showcase their innovations to the world, seeking out partners and investors and scoping new markets for their products.

Getting returns on innovation inputs by securing deals for viable commercial outputs is what it will take to turn around these much-discussed metrics – and our sector is hard at work doing just that.

Companies like the Bionics Institute are joining us. They are developing a medical device to give infants and children born with hearing loss the opportunity to start their language development earlier and provide clinicians with enhanced information about their patient’s hearing needs.

Hydrix will be there. They’re developing and commericalising cardiac support devices, implantable aortic devices and a range of wearables.

There’s also OncoRes Medical, a West Australian startup developing a handheld probe to help surgeons identify residual cancer following tumor excision.

A recent study of breast cancer patients by the University of NSW found a near 30 per cent chance that re-operation would be required within 90 days of initial surgery. If the OncoRes technology proves successful in reducing that number, not only do patients stand to benefit but savings for the health system will be enormous, both in Australia and internationally.

Portal Surgical Procedures also have patients firmly in mind with their non-invasive wound closure device, as does SDIP Innovations with their bioresorbable implants which encourage tissue regeneration.

ESN Cleer Health uses nanotechnology-enabled sensors and AI predictive algorithms in its products aimed at the prevention of heart attacks. Macuject is also working with AI to help doctors get better outcomes for patients undergoing intravitreal eye injections to treat macular degeneration and diabetes.

Mobius Medical is a Contract Research Organisation providing clinical trial management and electronic data capture services, looking for more multinational medtech and pharma companies to invest in Australia – and continue growing what is already a near $1 billion a year export industry for our country.

Add to these startups and companies the research and engineering grunt of the University of Sydney’s Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, Design + Industry, The George Institute for Global Health, the University of Technology Sydney, The BridgeTech Program from the Queensland University of Technology and Carbon Cybernetics out of the University of Melbourne and you can see this is a mighty delegation putting Australia’s best foot forward on the global stage.

Their success in translating and commercialising their research will be our success as a community, because we believe continued growth of the MTP sector could generate 28,000 new jobs and an extra $18 billion in Gross Value Added to the economy by 2025.

If we can achieve that goal, we’ll have gone a long way to delivering on the long-held ambition of economic diversification through the lifting-up of a key knowledge-intensive sector. Turn research into jobs and economic growth and the metrics will take care of themselves.

Dr Dan Grant is the Managing Director and CEO of MTPConnect, the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Growth Centre.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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