A new publication in Science Magazine, sponsored by Abbott, shows how Australia can create more value from its enviable biomedical R & D effort by promoting partnerships across industry, research and health services to address our healthcare priorities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a high point in the recent history of Australian medtech. The urgency of confronting a novel virus put a major premium on agile collaboration. Arms of the Australian healthcare system that typically operate in competition found themselves working alongside each other to get the most important job in the world done quickly, and right. We can be proud of the fact that, in Australia, we delivered on the task. Our testing rates are among the world’s highest; our hospital bed and ventilator capacity scaled up in record time; and normal elective surgery schedules were quickly re-established.
The important lesson is that healthcare works best when its stakeholders have aligned interests. The urgency of the COVID challenge broke down institutional barriers to collaboration – between the Commonwealth and states, between private and public hospitals, between competitors in industry, and between government and the private sector.
After the pandemic, there is no need to reinstitute those barriers.
That is the motivation that inspired Abbott to sponsor a major new publication in the prestigious journal Science, focused on how Australia can, and should, take a partnership approach to the innovation challenges necessary to address our 21st century healthcare needs.
Australia’s public and privately funded medical research effort is impressive by world standards, at well over $A6 billion. Yet less than 2% of our R & D spend ends up focused on translating insights from basic science into new therapies, new services or updated clinical guidelines. A key deficiency contributing to that gap is the lack of emphasis on bringing commercial and clinical expertise together with research skills in a coherent way. This insight is not new; it was a key focus of the McKeon Review of Health and Medical Research back in 2013. Not enough has changed since, despite some initiatives from governments and research institutions.
The Science supplement draws together the major peer reviewed studies conducted over the last decade on what differentiates successful translation efforts. Some of the major findings include:
- The role of time. Responsive regulatory and path-to-market systems attract translational investment
- Incentives for localisation: where the intellectual property is registered is a complex decision, based not just on market size but other factors including expected returns from reinvestment, relative taxation of IP, and successful examples of win-win outcomes from IP collaborations
- Recognition that translation is a specialist skill: integrating it into research institutional structures and incentivising direct funding of translation initiatives. The Medical Research Future Fund does some of this, but added scale will create better results.
We also highlight two examples of “self-starter” collaborations in Australia with great promise: the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance (ACVA) and Australia’s National Digital Health Initiative, ANDHealth.
The post-COVID environment is an ideal time to revive the impetus for change in our health innovation effort. We can already see what happens when we all pull together.