First report of innovation inquiry backs biotech


The Senate Economics References Committee has tabled its interim report on Australia’s innovation system.

The report includes an issues paper prepared by Professor Roy Green, who was engaged by the Committee as an expert consultant.

Professor Green’s paper identifies and summarises the key issues and emerging trends based on the 181 submissions received by the inquiry.

It asks a series of questions, including the extent to which investment should be directed towards translational research and what industries should receive a greater priority.

The paper identifies biotechnology as an “enabling and transformative technology”.

“Application of biotechnology-based discoveries in the treatment of diseases and medical conditions also provides scope for reduction in health care costs,” it says, going on to highlight the importance of cluster arrangements in health and biomedical research.

“…these arrangements take time and continuing resource commitments to mature. The University of Melbourne, the Parkville Medical Research Institutes, and the Victorian Government initiated Melbourne’s Bio21 cluster in 2000. It is now regarded as being in an important developmental phase.”

In its submission to the inquiry, AusBiotech argued for tax reform, policy support for commercialisation, including incentives, and clinical trials reform.

In response to the inquiry's terms of reference, AusBiotech argued for the maintenance of the current R&D Tax Incentive, in the context of the Abbott Government's stated objective to make further cuts to the policy, and a new incentive to encourage the commercialisation of local discoveries.

According to Professor Green’s paper, Australia’s innovation system is highly complex, reflecting “the differing missions and priorities” of its different players.

It says business R&D is heavily oriented towards mining, energy, manufacturing, information and communication services, and commercial services and tourism, while University and Government R&D is directed elsewhere, notably health.

The paper identifies the need for the Australian economy to navigate a complex post-mining boom transformation, with biotechnology set to play a major role.

It highlights the focus of many submissions on collaboration between researchers and industry, saying it is likely to be enhanced by creating opportunities that foster the development of personal interactions and relationships between industry and university leaders.

In relation to health, it says the Australian health industry “has benefitted substantially from the high concentration of university research in health.”

It added, “There are strong collaborations between universities, medical research institutes, public hospitals, global pharmaceutical companies, and early stage venture capital investors.

“Many of Australia’s celebrated commercialisation successes are in the health sector – ResMed, Cochlear, Gardasil, Sirtex, Universal Biosensors, Mesoblast and Monash IVF.”

The paper asks for input on the issues raised, including the potential creation of a National Innovation Council, which was proposed by some stakeholders to provide a leadership role in developing and implementing innovation system strategy.

Amongst its roles, the Council deliver a nationally coordinated approach to innovation policy, identify priorities, undertake technology and knowledge ‘foresight’ exercises, and engage with industry and the research sector.

The reporting date for the inquiry’s final report has been extended to 25 November 2015.