Record low NHMRC success rate a concern


Australia's medical research institutes say the record low success rate of NHMRC Project Grant applications demonstrates the urgent need for the Medical Research Future Fund to boost government funding for medical research.

Health Minister Sussan Ley announced $630 million for 800 research grants on Monday.

“This $630 million investment will enable our world-class and internationally-recognised researchers to develop the new treatments of the 21st century and beyond,” said the Minister.

However, according to the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI), the record low application success rate of 13.7 per cent, down from 14.9 per cent in 2014, meant a significant amount of vital medical research will not be done in Australia due to a lack of funding.

“This is exactly why the Government’s MRFF is so vital to Australians’ future health,” said AAMRI President Professor Doug Hilton. “We recently launched the ‘What’s the Fuss?’ campaign to help Australians understand the integral role health and medical research plays in helping to make the important discoveries around the causes, treatments and cures for so many medical conditions, but these discoveries need funding to happen."

AAMRI is the peak body representing medical research institutes across Australia. Its 46 member organisations collectively represent more than 10,000 staff and students.

“The recently-legislated MRFF will help provide that funding, by delivering an additional $1 billion each year for medical research, effectively doubling government funding for medical research. But in order to deliver this $1 billion per year, the MRFF account needs to build to $20 billion by 2020. Currently it holds just $1 billion, and can only deliver a fraction of that right now, so we have a long way to go to see that become a reality.

“For every researcher who received an NHMRC Project Grant in the 2015 round there are another six who were unsuccessful in their applications. There are a number of reasons for this. The obvious one is a lack of funding, but it is also a function of the flawed NHMRC grants system. The high number of grant applications is unsustainable, and we look forward to working with NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso on helping to improve the system.

“It’s important we do this as soon as possible. Half of all Australians now live with a chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or mental health issues, and we have an ageing population. This is a time when research simply must be supported to find answers to these intractable and nationally debilitating problems.

“If we want to save our health system money, we need to invest in health and medical research to help discover the causes of these illnesses and prevent very expensive conditions from occurring in the first place. By finding new ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent disease we can improve health outcomes and deliver a more efficient health system. Only research can make these discoveries possible.

“We know that every dollar invested in medical research returns at least double that. Medical research is a much surer bet than any you can make in the Melbourne Cup,” said Professor Hilton.