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Why Australia needs a Medical Research Future Fund

Tracy Parish

16 February, 2015

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While Australia already conducts world-class research, future global leadership requires a major funding investment.

That’s the message delivered by an esteemed group of leaders from Australia’s Medical Research Institutes and the medical sector in a perspective article published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).

Burnet Institute Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC, co-authored the MJA perspective with Professor Anthony Cunningham AO (Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research), Dr Teresa Anderson ( Sydney Local Health District), Professor Christine Bennett AO (Research Australia), Dr Gareth Goodier (Melbourne Health), Professor Doug Hilton (Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes), Ms Elizabeth Koff (The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network) and Professor Joe Trapani (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne).

Professor Brendan Crabb AC talks to the MJA about the Medical Research Future Fund and careers in clinical research.

Below is an excerpt of the MJA article or click here to download the PDF from the MJA site.

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) announced as part of the 2014–15 Federal Budget will be an integral factor in Australia’s ability to continue delivering among the best health and medical research in the world. If we look beyond the political rhetoric and debate, the MRFF offers substantial value to Australia. Yet very few commentators, including those in the medical and health sectors, have acknowledged this to the degree it deserves.

Presently the Australian Government spends 0.075 percent of gross domestic product on health and medical research — only 64 percent of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 0.118 percent. The MRFF, as proposed, will build to a AUD$20 billion perpetual fund over the next decade, ultimately providing AUD$1 billion in funding annually for health and medical research. It is vital that this size and pace of funding be achieved to bring Australia back to an internationally comparable level of government research support.

Benefits of research to health care

There is international evidence that hospitals and health care facilities that do research deliver higher-quality care, have better patient outcomes and are more efficient. In its 2009 final report, A healthier future for all Australians, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission presented recommendations for creating an agile, responsive and self-improving health system. Central to these recommendations was embedding research in clinical and health services settings, and fostering a culture of improvement.

More recently, a key theme in the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research (the McKeon Review), presented to the Federal Government in 2013, was that the best performing health systems are those that embed research in health delivery, leading to better health outcomes. This belies the proposition that it makes more sense to spend our limited public funds on health care, especially when it comes to the vulnerable groups in our community.

It is not true to say that almost all the medical research discoveries and cures of the future will come from beyond our shores. Australian discoveries, such as the cochlear implant and the recombinant human papillomavirus vaccine against cervical cancer, show that Australia is well and truly capable of health and medical research that has a transformational effect on the health of our community and around the world. Furthermore, a strong medical research culture is required to evaluate and selectively import the fruits of the 97 percent of medical research performed outside Australia that is relevant to our health system.

Research in many fields, including that on the human brain, genomics, genetic discovery for diseases such as melanoma and multiple sclerosis, and bionics, is increasingly undertaken through international collaborations. The MRFF investment will position Australia as a valuable collaborator and contributor to such global efforts. Having local scientific and public health expertise is vital for our national biosecurity and for taking urgent, effective local action to protect the Australian community against pandemics such as influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, Ebola virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or other worldwide health threats.

The benefits of research are also finally becoming visible among our Indigenous communities, where infant mortality is falling, life expectancy is improving and, for the first time, hope is emerging that we can “close the gap” over the coming decades. The health needs of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are unique and will not be addressed by research conducted in Europe or the United States.

More on the MJA website

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)

Telephone

+61392822174

Email

brendan.crabb@burnet.edu.au

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