Lab+Life Scientist Oct 2014

Page 38

ausbiotech 2014

out of the circle - not by stopping the cycle but by

is very hard to define, and harder to prescribe, but

Research Council. It does an excellent job, but it

getting another plate spinning. We must look at the

change must be encouraged, and we need examples

creates a particular culture, and there are gaps in its

barriers to doing that,” he said.

of success to provide that encouragement.”

coverage,” he said.

He suggests a major barrier is a funding system

He says when he became director-general of

“The success rate for grant applications is

that fails to reward interactions between the discoverer

Ireland’s Science Foundation, he conducted an annual

diminishing, which reduces the motivation to work

and the deliverer, both at the clinical and company

census of foundation-funded research that asked

hard.

level. “We don’t talk enough,” he says. “As a result,

how many researchers worked in each laboratory,

“The projects that do win grants are often

researchers, clinicians and companies don’t know

how many publications they produced, whether they

underfunded, which means the universities or research

enough about what each is doing.”

were working with companies to commercialise their

institutes that host the projects have to find extra

Prof Gannon says exports from Australia’s

discoveries, and how often they met for talks with

money to support them.

biotechnology sector are very high, but tend to be

company representatives and what they talked about.

“There’s also a trend away from funding

concentrated with a small number of companies.

“What the census showed was that there was

individuals, and the number of researchers on

There haven’t been enough successes to sustain a

healthy engagement with industry at the start, and at

fellowships seems to be dwindling - fellowships are

greater breadth of corporate activity.

the end. Three-quarters of the researchers were actively

seen as just one phase of a career, rather than an opportunity to pursue an entire career in research.

The problem, he suggests, traces to the process

collaborating in jointly funded projects with industry - by

of funding Australian start-ups: companies start with

regularly asking each other questions, there was a much

“A Medical Research Future Fund would promote

relatively modest start-up capital between $2 million

better transition from discovery to commercialisation.

better connections between clinicians and researchers,

and $4 million, and the founders exit and start over

Prof Gannon believes Australia’s proposal to

by freeing up time for clinicians to do more research.

once the company’s value reaches $20-odd million,

create a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund,

It would provide more funds for translating research

and attracts takeover suitors.

however it is funded, would not only boost the volume

through industry and provide funding for clinical trials.”

Can Australia emulate Ireland’s culture of

and quality of medical research in Australia but could

Prof Gannon said increased funding would reduce

communication between researchers and companies

catalyse the development of more commercially

the time researchers currently spend writing grant

interested in commercialising their discoveries?

focused culture in research.

applications or seeking funding. They would have

Prof Gannon doubts there is a simple remedy for

“Australia has a single funding agency for

the science-industry disconnect in Australia: “Culture

medical research - the National Health and Medical

more time to do high-quality research and become involved in commercialising their own discoveries.

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