Government must crank up medical research investment

06/02/05

Australia must ramp up its investment in health and medical research to secure a strong, enduring, sustainable economic future according to Australian Graduate School of Management innovation and biotechnology expert, Professor Michael Vitale, and CEO of Research Australia, Dr Christine Bennett.

In a joint paper published today in The Medical Journal of Australia, the pair called on the Federal Government to commit to the recommendations of the Grant Report, also known as the Investment Review of Health and Medical Research, which was released by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, in December last year.

Conducted by a committee of independent experts, the review was initiated by the Government to determine the impact of its historical doubling of research funding in response to the Wills Report four years ago. It showed there had already been healthcare and economic successes, with more to follow, and recommended that the Government further boost its investment to stay in the global race to develop and own biomedical intellectual property.

Dr Bennett said that with the right support from government and industry, health and medical research could hold the key to Australia's future prosperity in a global knowledge economy.

"The Government's announcement on 26 May that a taskforce has been formed to advise on ways to encourage more investment by the private sector in Australian health and medical research was a welcome first step. We now need commitment to other key recommendations in the Grant Report such as continued growth of Commonwealth Government funding and the future structure of the National Health and Medical Research Council," she said.

Professor Vitale said the vibrant biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the US today are a clear example of what strategic investment can achieve.

"Their powerhouse status is the outcome of political strategies put in place 25 years ago and is reflected in a tenfold increase in the number of patents and royalty and licensing fees - amounting to US$1 billion a year - and a fourfold increase in corporate research funding."

Dr Bennett said many overseas countries like Japan, Canada and the UK, are now emulating the US approach by implementing significantly resourced strategies to cultivate and attract the brightest minds, build infrastructure and capacity in basic sciences and research, develop commercial competence and grow new businesses.

In April this year the European Commission announced it would double its research budget to 70 billion Euro over seven years to bolster growth and competitiveness, catch up with American and Japanese spending on innovation and transform the European Union into a knowledge-based economy. This spending is in addition to funds committed by the individual EU states to support research within their own borders.

"The Howard Government has already shown leadership by substantially increasing research funding four years ago and by announcing new infrastructure funding in its election campaign last year," said Dr Bennett.

"But if we do not continue the momentum we will quickly drop off the leader board, potentially costing this country billion of dollars in additional health care expenditure and lost business, jobs and export opportunities.

"Even flat-line funding would be a reduction in real terms and would see us fall further behind other countries as their investment and policy environments focus on optimising their leadership positions," said Dr Bennett.

Research Australia public opinion polls in 2003 and 2004 show that most Australians want to see increased government and industry investment in health and medical research and are prepared to contribute themselves. Almost half of Australians said they would rather see surplus Government funds invested in research than receive tax cuts.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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