Lab+Life Scientist Oct 2014

Page 37

ausbiotech 2014

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Graeme O’Neill

Medical research Seeking the right company

P

microbiologists, and former chancellor of Victoria’s

that may involve working with or licensing external

La Trobe University.

companies, or setting up our own - it’s a crucial part

Gannon was recruited to head QIMR Berghofer rof Gannon is the director of the

Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane,

Australia excels in biomedical research but sucks at commercialisation. Professor Frank Gannon says that needs to change.

of what should be happening.

in 2011 from his former post as director-general of the

“The work we perform generally comes under

Science Foundation of Ireland, the dominant funding

the heading of translational research, but we prefer

agency for all research in Ireland.

a more rigorous description: there are several lead-

the translational arm of the Queensland Institute of

“Its motto is ‘Research with Consequences’ - it

up phases that get bundled with translation, that

Medical Research (QIMR). The institute is dedicated

supports excellence, and expects consequences,” he

we need to dissect out: the discovery of a target, its

to doing well, what Australia has done so poorly:

said. “When you normalise for differences in GDP,

characterisation, developing molecules to interfere

turning discoveries in cancer research, infectious

Ireland ranks close to Australia in the league table for

with the target, and then, translation.”

diseases, complex medical disorders and mental

research output but it does better than Australia in

health into new treatments, novel diagnostics and

transferring research results to industry.

prevention strategies.

“When the foundation was established, there was

“In the past, during the progression from discovery and translation, the enabling step of working with industry has tended to be omitted from the

Gannon, who is from Ireland, retells an all-too-

an expectation that it would foster a culture in which

familiar tale: Australia ranks 11th in the world for

scientists would work with industry to commercialise

Prof Gannon suggests that one reason why

generating new medical knowledge but languishes

their discoveries. They have come to know each other

Australia has done so poorly at commercialising its

near the tail of the field in transferring that knowledge

very well.”

medical discoveries is that Australian researchers are

to industry and the clinic.

discourse.”

Gannon says QIMR Berghofer is focused on

rewarded predominantly for publishing research

He will present the prestigious Millis Oration at

producing an impact from excellent research. “In

papers - not for their efforts in commercialising their

the AusBiotech 2014 Conference on the Gold Coast

the past, we have tended to focus on the impact in

discoveries.

this month - the oration honours the late Professor

the clinic,” he said. “We now recognise that, to get to

The process of research leading to publication

Emeritus Nancy Millis, one of Australia’s greatest

the clinic, we have to go through a commercial phase

becomes circular - an end in itself. “We need to break

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