AusBiotech's Lorraine Chiroiu: A 'hollow victory' and 'slap in the face'

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AuBiotech CEO Lorraine Chiroiu says the global biotechnology sector is very concerned by the decision to waive intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments given what it says about the lack of understanding of its importance to attracting investment that ultimately supports innovation.

Ms Chiroiu recently returned from San Diego where she attended the BIO international convention in person for the first time since 2019.

She told BiotechDispatch that the 400-strong Australian delegation had a significant impact on a global event attended by around 13,000 people.

"The main driver for Australian participation in the event is partnering and business development for companies. We usually do that through the lens of the state governments taking real estate in the Australian pavilion and then they support companies to attend.

"We also have a very strong contingent of clinical research organisations attending this event and they are doing really amazing business. They are reporting to me anecdotally that every time they go out of Australia, on some sort of mission like BIO, they are doing significant business and bringing it back to Australia.

"Clinical trial work is so buoyant at the moment. We had people coming to our pavilion asking about Australia as a location for clinical trials but also skills. So, we had people asking about working visas."

Ms Chiroiu said the attendance of state ministers and senior government officials made a real difference in San Diego because it attracted attention to the Australian delegation.

"I know the delegation really appreciated the level of support from our senior public officials," she said.

"For us, it is a reflection of relevance across the board. In the past, we have been represented by just two or three states. That has evolved and there is now a much greater sense of broader Australian representation. All the states are now recognising the value of the global interaction and that is why we are seeing record numbers in our delegation."

The AusBiotech boss said a significant focus at this year's international event was the recent decision at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property protection for the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

"It was a hollow victory in terms of actual impact but a real slap in the face for our sector. It demonstrated a real misunderstanding of the relationship between intellectual property protection and our sector's ability to attract investment, as well as the fact it has been such an important driver of the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments," she said.

"It really was a case of prioritising politics over reality. The waiver itself is not going to aid access because it was never a problem from that perspective."

Ms Chiroiu said a key objective of travelling to the US to attend BIO in San Diego was to generate interest and excitement in AusBiotech's annual conference that will be held in Perth in late October.

"We had a number of conversations about bringing people to the event and planning business development trips to Australia to coincide with the event. We are really optimistic about getting an excellent number in Perth."