Global economic crisis threatens Australia’s Biotech

Media releases

Issued by the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes

The global economic crisis is threatening Australia’s ability to turn medical research into products that improve lives and create high value jobs, according to the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI). Urgent government action is needed to bridge the gap between research and application. Without it, the next generation of innovation may be lost to the community.

“The Federal Government’s recent announcement of $83 million in venture capital is an important step in protecting innovation. But more government investment is urgently needed to ensure that Australia’s vibrant biotech community survives the crisis and is ready to take up the next generation of medical research discoveries, and if Australia, as a smart country, is to embrace biotech in the same way that Finland has done, for example, with telecommunications”1 says Professor Robert Graham, President of AAMRI.

“Biotechnology not only has much greater economic potential than telecommunications, it profoundly impacts peoples lives and well being. To foster innovation, funds need to be made available directly to the scientists responsible for the discoveries that fuel our burgeoning biotech industry, and not be limited only to established companies with 100 or more employees”, he continued.

“Turning medical research discoveries into medical products mostly takes place through the biotech sector. There is very little direct engagement with pharmaceutical companies, since our discoveries are usually at the fundamental, laboratory-based, scientific end of the production journey.” Professor Graham, who is also the Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, and a Director of the biotech company, EngeneIC, adds, “Many of Australia’s most talented and innovative medical researchers are increasingly involved in biotech companies. Quite clearly, further investment in the biotech sector is essential to build on our enviable international research reputation. This will ensure that our brightest researchers remain in Australia or are attracted back, and that valuable intellectual property is captured here. A strongly supported biotech sector shows that Australia is serious about developing a brain-powered industry that will contribute even more to its economy, to our well being and to global health”.

Professor Suzanne Cory, Director of Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, and former President of AAMRI, is convinced that the long-term value of biotech companies is in translating medical Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes discoveries into products. “Our Institute’s three successful spinout biotech companies have been pivotal in creating value from our medical research discoveries. ASX-listed Genera Biosystems is about to enter the GMP-manufacturing stage for a new cervical cancer test. Nexpep has approval for a Phase 1 clinical trial for a new coeliac disease treatment – but has insufficient funds to progress beyond this stage. And MuriGen has discovered new uses for cytokines that have been licensed to CSL.”

Regarding the recent announcement in venture capital funds, AAMRI congratulates the Federal Government on this important first step in protecting biotech companies during the economic down-turn and urges it to consider further programs to enable biotech companies to develop marketable medical products – both for existing companies fighting to keep adding value in the current climate, and to encourage further investment in taking new discoveries to the crucial proof-of-concept stage.

1. Inject funds here for healthy economy. Australian Financial Review, Letters. 12 March 2009.

Further information:

Vidya Muthanna

Communications Officer

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Ph: (02) 92958715 or 0409393686