AusBiotech responds to research funds consultation


AusBiotech states process must not overtake purpose behind funds, in response to the consultation paper 'Improving alignment and coordination between the Medical Research Future Fund and NHMRC’s Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA)'.

As the voice of industry, AusBiotech delivered a submission in response to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s consultation paper seeking industry views on improving alignment between Australia’s two key Commonwealth research funds.

In July, the Federal Government announced a national consultation on improving alignment and coordination between the MRFF and MREA (managed by the NHMRC), to provide the greatest benefit for publicly-funded health and medical research.

The consultation paper noted how with closer coordination of MRFF and MREA support, increased efficiency and effectiveness of the two funds’ investments could be achieved. Several models were proposed including coordination of funds, management of both funds by NHMRC, and merging the two funds with new governance arrangements.

AusBiotech sought member views to support an industry-led submission, with the submission highlighting the important distinction between each programme’s purpose, and between translation and commercialisation, in any new/amended model that is adopted.

The NHMRC has predominantly funded a broad range of investigator-initiated research, especially through fellowships and project grants, with more limited priority-driven research; the MRFF balances this by supporting priority-driven research with a focus on research translation, whether directly through improvements in health and healthcare or, where appropriate, through commercial development.

The submission stated, “The intentional focus on commercial development for the MRFF and the differentiation between these two programmes is well-received by industry, and there is a strong need for this to be retained. Ensuring the unique purposes are preserved in the governance and administrative constructs will be critical to its continuation, with the proposed joint models risking conflation and risking process overtaking purpose.”

The importance of retaining each programme’s purpose, capabilities, governance and administration was particularly stressed.

“While it’s acknowledged that there are some gaps that could be addressed through a coordinated strategy, the MRFF is still relatively new and the broader impacts it will deliver for Australia’s economic and social development are yet to be seen. In the same vein, any shifts, even subtle ones, to the balance between priority-driven research and instigator-led research will take time to be seen. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that, irrespective of the design choices determined, metrics are promptly developed and implemented, including tracking the amount of MRFF funds applied to commercialisation,” the submission noted.

The need for MRFF metrics was also identified in AusBiotech’s Biotechnology Blueprint, the decadal strategy developed by industry, for industry.

AusBiotech is supportive of coordinating and aligning the two funds, suggesting coordination also enables knowledge sharing and internal capability building between the MRFF and NHMRC.

“By coordinating, rather than merging, the capabilities present across the two Funds, it acknowledges their individual functions and yet facilitates the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience and thereby creates a greater understanding of the research and development pipeline that goes on to support Australian products being available on market. Coordinating commercialisation knowledge enables a dual focus on efforts and collaborations across both academia and industry, builds awareness of roles, value and capabilities, and supports collaborative structures.”

In June 2023, AusBiotech attended the first invitation-only Ministerial roundtable with The Hon. Mark Butler MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, to discuss the proposed changes and improvements as strategic alignment, management and deployment of the two Commonwealth funds is sought.

The first consultation phase will focus on governance and administration, while the second phase will focus on the funds’ investment strategies. AusBiotech plans to engage with its members during the second phase to develop an industry-led response.