AusBiotech CEO Lorraine Chiroiu on early impressions and future priorities

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Recently appointed CEO of AusBiotech, Lorraine Chiroiu, says the association plans to build its role in policy to help ensure the operating environment supports the continued growth of the sector.

In an interview with BiotechDispatch, Ms Chiroiu said her appointment was an opportunity for an already strong organisation to have a "refreshed view" of its direction and sense of purpose.

"I think we're talking about evolution, not revolution," she said, adding the association is well-placed as an "enabling organisation...that reduces barriers in the environment."

Ms Chiroiu has been with the association for almost ten years, starting in 2008 as its chief industry officer, before being appointed its deputy CEO in 2016 following the retirement of Dr Anna Lavelle.

"We've seen some really terrific strides in the growth of the industry and we're now sitting with about 850 companies and 69,000 staff as part of a broader sector that's made up of around 1,600 organisations and 230,000 employees," said Ms Chiroiu.

She said one of her first jobs will be to deliver the association's new strategic plan.

"The AusBiotech board has been working on it for the past six months and, while the foundations of it remain very much the same, we are going to see some changes in the focus on different areas.

"We are going to move to put more resourcing into policy work and we're also going to put a focus on the capabilities and opportunities in NSW."

The new AusBiotech boss the association also plans to put "greater importance" on addressing barriers to the sector's growth.

"We see the major levers as being intellectual property protection, tax incentives and the broader tax environment. The regulatory environment is very important and skills has been something that has developed over the last couple of years as a really important driver of the industry," she said.

On proposed changes to the R&D Tax Incentive program, Ms Chiroiu said the sector has welcomed the carve-out for clinical trials from the $4 million annual cap on the refundable cash component but remains concerned over the overall cut to the benefit.

The cut relates to the de-coupling of the benefit under the R&D Tax Incentive from the corporate tax rate. Companies with low turnover, which comprise a significant portion of the sector, will lose part of their expected cash refund as a result of the lowering of the corporate tax rate. 

"The R&D Tax Incentive has been a game changer for the industry and I think as the years go on we're seeing more and more benefits of that flow back into the sector. 

"We'd like to see some changes before it's accepted and certainly a lot more clarity around some of the definitional components and how it will be rolled out when it eventually goes through the parliament."