Billions to spur on and streamline medical research

3 minute read

Women’s health, cancer, chronic pain and health inequities are among several new focus areas for the Medical Research Future Fund.

A shakeup in medical research aims to keep Australia competitive as a research destination while improving patient access to clinical trials and boosting work in new priority areas, including a “10-year mission” to reduce health inequities.

The reforms include a forthcoming national strategy for medical research that will “cover the entire sector and include all levels of government, industry, philanthropy, academia and consumers”.

Under the “Health Research for a Future Made in Australia” package announced earlier this month, the government will invest a total of $1.89 billion, the bulk of it through the Medical Research Future Fund. The MRFF will undertake two new 10-year missions – reducing health inequities and improving outcomes in low-survival cancers – and increase research in the areas of women’s health, chronic pain and alcohol and other drug treatment.  

The inequities mission, with $150 million in cash, will focus on First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTQIA+ Australians.

The NHMRC will have an extra $411m to support research into “Australia’s most pressing health challenges” through its Investigator Grants scheme, which will apply gender equity targets.

A “National One Stop Shop” for clinical trials “will harmonise and nationalise the administration and regulation of health and medical research” the government says, “including through establishing an easy-to-use website which will help patients, researchers and industry find, conduct and participate in clinical trials and research”.

Health Minister Mark Butler said better alignment and coordination of the MRFF and NHMRC would strengthen Australia’s world-leading research capability, while the National One Stop Shop would remove red tape and help end the “postcode lottery in access to clinical trials”.

He said a federal system brought some advantages “but also some great inefficiencies” including in the realm of clinical trials.

“To do a multi-jurisdiction clinical trial in this country … industry, researchers, universities have complained about the need to get approvals in every single jurisdiction. The inefficiency that that involves, it really does lead a whole lot of people to wonder whether it’s worth doing a clinical trial here in Australia.”

The Research and Development Taskforce – a collaboration between AusBiotech, Medicines Australia and the Medical Technology Association of Australia – said the One Stop Shop would foster innovation, create jobs, and reinforce Australia’s position as a global leader in research and development.

“It will also increase opportunities for Australians to access the latest medical therapies through participation in increased trials,” a representative said.

“Australia is a preferred destination for clinical trials, with excellent healthcare facilities, world-class researchers, a diverse population, and strong legal frameworks with robust IP protections.

“However, the complex regulatory environment for trials in Australia can act as a barrier for companies looking for efficient and cost-effective locations.”

Digital Health CRC CEO Annette Schmiede welcomed the investment package, saying the national strategy would align the fragmented sector.

“During covid we saw more than a decade worth of innovation occur across the healthcare sector in less than two years,” Ms Schmiede said. “There is now a unique opportunity to double down on that innovation and deliver more personalised, connected and effective care for all Australians.

She said too much Australian research failed to produce tangible outcomes for the health sector.

“We have seen this first-hand across many of our research projects – the difficulty in translating proof of concept into real world outputs … There isn’t an issue with the quality or quantity of research that Australian universities are producing, but rather the issue we face is gaining widespread adoption of research outcomes through translation and commercialisation.”

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