12th Oct 18

Medical Research Future Fund set to turbo-charge medical research and innovation

Some of you may not be aware how the Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) is now ramping up its investments in ground-breaking health and medical research, just three years after it was established.

Some have said that it’s been a slow build for the MRFF, but it’s worth bearing mind that the fund is set to become one of the largest medical research endowment funds in the world with an anticipated $20 billion in assets by 2020-21.

The recent 2018-19 Federal Budget unveiled a range of MRFF-backed research initiatives, including the multi-strand National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which will invest $1.3 billion over the next decade.

The program has the potential to cement Australia’s place as a world leader in health and medical research and technology development. Among its key investments, is a $500 million program to develop a new Genomics Health Futures Mission, which will ultimately deliver innovative drugs, devices and therapies to millions of Australians, and others around the world.

A deeper understanding of genomics – which essentially is the complete set of human DNA – may lead to targeted treatments of rare cancers, diseases and complex conditions by identifying single point mutations in key genes. This depth of knowledge has the potential to significantly change the way in which clinical treatment is administered by practitioners in the care of patients into the future – as we all age, that’s something we should all be very excited about.

The Genomics Health Futures Mission will also fund targeted and adaptive clinical trials and ways to improve research, industry collaboration, and investment.

About $10.7 million will be allocated this financial year to priority projects including trials of pre‐conception screening for rare and debilitating birth disorders such as spinal muscular atrophy.

The Genomics Health Futures Mission steering committee, which is developing a comprehensive operational and investment plan, is being overseen by Professors Ian Frazer (MRFF Board Chair), Kathryn North and Brendan Murphy.

Another key National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan investment is the Targeted Translation Research Accelerator program. It has been allocated $125 million over nine years to support early-stage health and medical research on chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which affect more than five million Australians.

The program is expected to alleviate a key problem which sometimes faces early stage health and medical research – a relatively shallow pool of capital available to be invested in commercialising these promising discoveries. The Targeted Translation Research Accelerator program will lead to a fuller investment pipeline of innovations that will progress to late-stage research and commercial success with support from philanthropic and business co-funding.

An expert advisory committee, led by me in my capacity as a MRFF Board Member, has been formed to identify research priorities, business and philanthropic co-funding models, and mechanisms for supporting these types of grants.

The over-arching Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan will also invest $240 million for a Frontier Health and Medical Research program; $248 million for an expanded rare cancers, rare diseases and unmet need clinical trials program; and $94 million for industry research collaborations and biomedical and medical technology programs.

These programs are only the start. As the MRFF continues to grow, the allocations to new programs will expand rapidly. The fund has already received $7.1 billion in government contributions as it builds towards its $20 billion target. The fund will transform the lives of millions of Australians for generations into the future.

The MRFF will inject about $650 million into research in 2020-21 – almost triple the level of investment it will make in 2018-19.

One of the really pleasing outcomes from what the MRFF is doing is the knock-on positive effects it will have on the capacity of venture capital investors to continue the journey of commercialisation of promising health and medical research discoveries. VC firms raised an impressive $1.32 billion in new commitments in 2016-17, more than doubling the previous year’s record, so the broader pipeline of capital that can be invested in this area of the economy is growing, in-line with the acceleration in the rollout of the MRFF’s programs.

VC has backed countless medical successes over the past few years, including world-leading firms such as Vaxxas (which produces a needle-free, pain-free vaccine delivery solution) and Global Kinetics Corporation (which created the Parkinson’s Disease-focused KinetiGraph™ treatment system). There’s every reason to expect VC investors to drive even greater medical successes over the years ahead.

Yasser El-Ansary is chief executive of AVCAL, and a board member of the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board (AMRAB). AMRAB provides advice and recommendations to the Government about the MRFF’s strategy and priorities. Read more about the MRFF here.