RESEARCH AUSTRALIA WELCOMES MEDICAL RESEARCH COMMITMENT

The Albanese Government’s commitment to medical research today it a critical step towards underwriting the health and economic outcomes that Australians want and deserve.

Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin today welcomed the announcement, and in particular the National Strategy for Health and Medical Research which the organisation has long called for.

“Medical research is the path to a healthy Australian population and a healthy Australian economy, and today’s commitment is a critical step,” Ms Levin said.

“Health and medical research represents 23 per cent of Australian R&D activity and it needs and deserves a coordinated strategy to focus and target it.

“A strategic, national approach will guide discoveries faster to market and to the Australians who want the best possible health care – all imperative for a healthy, wealthy future.

“We look forward to working with Minister Butler to progress the National Health and Medical Research Strategy.”

Ms Levin said that the next step the Australian Government could take would be to fully utilise the funds available from the Medical Research Future Fund.

“As Australia’s peak health and medical research body, we’re pleased to see the Medical Research Future Fund supporting new missions in low survival cancers and a focus on reducing health inequities ,” she said.

“The next thing the Government could do is ensure all of the available MRFF funding is flowing through to researchers.”

The Future Fund Board of Guardians determined $973 million was available for grants through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for the 2024-25 financial year, however the Federal Government has so far only budgeted for $650 million to be disbursed.

It follows 2023-24 when $870 million was available but funding actual funding was still capped at $650 million.

“The health and medical research sector has abundant capacity to immediately use every available dollar of research funding, with worthy projects and medical advances ready to be made,” Ms Levin said.

“The more we invest in medical research the better the health, policy and economic outcomes for Australia in the years to come.”

As the peak national body for health and medical research and innovation, Research Australia played a key role in the establishment of the MRFF.

Media contact: Jack Douglas 0450 115 005

Advocacy Award Sponsored by AbbVie – Mrs Catherine Hughes from the Immunisation Foundation of Australia

Introducing our 2023 finalists: Mrs Catherine Hughes

Australia’s health advocates help transform medical research into tangible outcomes for patients and their communities. The Advocacy Award was created to celebrate the dedication and contributions of our most passionate health and medical research advocates.

Among this year’s finalists in this important category is Catherine Hughes, Director of the Immunisation Foundation of Australia (IFA), who has demonstrated tireless commitment to improving immunisation rates and community support for infectious diseases research.

FINDING STRENGTH IN THE STRUGGLE

Catherine’s health advocacy journey started when she lost her four-week-old son Riley to whooping cough in 2015. Determined to prevent other families from suffering because of vaccine-preventable diseases, Catherine and her husband Greg launched the ‘Light for Riley’ campaign.

The award-winning campaign took Catherine across Australia, spreading awareness about whooping cough and the importance of pertussis vaccination during pregnancy. Since the campaign, every Australian state and territory have implemented free pertussis vaccinations for pregnant women and Australia has some of the world’s highest pertussis vaccination rates among pregnant people.

CONNECTING COMMUNITIES AND SCIENTISTS  

In 2017, Catherine established the Immunisation Foundation of Australia (IFA) and expanded her advocacy to other vaccine-preventable diseases including influenza, RSV, meningococcal and pneumococcal.

As IFA Director, Catherine works closely with research institutes such as the Telethon Kids Institute to create evidence-based awareness campaigns and educational resources. Catherine has also been a consumer investigator on multiple research projects, using her strengths in community engagement to help bridge the gap between scientists and the wider community.

In recognition of her efforts, Catherine was named Western Australia’s Young Australian of the Year in 2016 and appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to immunisation in 2022.

Professor Jonathan Rhys Carapetis AM, FAA, FAHMS from the Telethon Kids Institute, who nominated Catherine, stressed the importance of vaccine advocacy in continuing to improve Australia’s public health outcomes.

“With vaccine hesitancy on the rise, being a loud advocate for vaccines can be challenging, and sometimes even dangerous. Yet, Catherine remains steadfast in her commitment to the cause and ensuring that communities are included in immunisation research and delivery,” explains Professor Carapetis.

“Catherine’s ability to connect with communities and deliver the pro-vaccination message with compassion and clarity is exactly the sort of advocacy we need to ensure the future success of immunisation in Australia.”

Catherine said: “I’m honoured to be a finalist in these prestigious Awards, along with other outstanding advocates for health and medical research. Our hope is that Australians from all walks of life will take action to remain up to date with whooping cough vaccination. We all have a role to play to spread this vital message and prevent the loss of loved ones like Riley.”

The winners of Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards will be announced at a gala award ceremony in Sydney on November 2.

Griffith University Discovery Award Finalist – Dr Caitlin Jones from The Institute for Musculoskeletal Health

Introducing our 2023 finalists: Dr Caitlin Jones

It is an honour to be celebrating Australia’s research talent at this year’s Health and Medical Research Awards. Generously sponsored by Griffith University, the Discovery Award recognises an early-career researcher who is already making an important impact with their work.

Among the Discovery Award finalists for 2023 is Dr Caitlin Jones, who was awarded her PhD earlier this year and has already demonstrated research excellency through her leading role in the OPAL trial: a 12-month long study on the use of opioids for treating back pain.

BACK PAIN AND OPIOID PRESCRIPTION: MORE HARM THAN GOOD

 Lower back and neck pain are two of the most burdensome conditions among adults. Over 619 million people worldwide experience back pain at any one time[1] and between 40-70% of those who present for care are prescribed an opioid.[2]

Despite opioid prescription being common, there is little evidence to support its effectiveness for back pain. The harms from opioid use range from minor side effects like constipation, dizziness and nausea, to long-term harms such as dependence, addiction, and overdose. In Australia alone, opioid use causes 50 hospitalisations, 14 emergency department admissions, and 3 deaths every day – at a cost of over $5 billion each year.[3]

 A WORLD FIRST STUDY AND A CALL FOR CHANGE

Dr Jones was the first author on the OPAL trial, published in The Lancet earlier this year. OPAL was a study of 347 people with acute non-specific back and/or neck pain in which half of the participants received an opioid (oxycodone/naloxone) and the other received a visually identical placebo. The groups were treated for up to six weeks, monitored for 12 months, and evaluated at the 2, 4, 6, 12, 26, and 52 week marks. Participants also reported daily pain scores for the first 12 weeks.

Dr Jones and the team discovered that those in the opioid group had worse outcomes compared to the placebo groups in several measures including pain, quality of life/mental health and physical function.

Current clinical guidelines recommend the prescription of opioids when other treatments have failed or are not appropriate. However, the OPAL trial clearly shows that they should not be used at all for this condition.

“OPAL is the world’s first and largest placebo-controlled trial of opioids for acute back and neck pain. The previous guidelines for opioid use were based on indirect evidence,” explains Dr Jones.

“The OPAL trial will help shift international guidelines and, as a result, reduce the many unnecessary harms caused by opioid prescriptions.”

The winners of Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards will be announced at a gala award ceremony in Sydney on November 2.

[1] World Health Organisation. (2023, June 19). Low back pain. World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/low-back-pain

[2] Ferreira GE, Machado GC, Abdel Shaheed C, et al. (2019). Management of low back pain in Australian emergency departments. BMJ Quality & Safety, 28(10), 826-834.

 [3] National Drug Research Institute. (2020). The cost of opioid use to Australia: $15.7 billion and 2203 deaths. NDRI News.

Data Innovation Finalist – Professor Georgina Chambers and the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit, UNSW

Introducing our 2023 finalists: Professor Georgina Chambers and the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit, UNSW

Research Australia is proud to recognise all of the outstanding finalists in this year’s Health and Medical Research Awards, and we look forward to celebrating their work at the Award gala on November 2.

This year, we’re sharing a few of their fantastic stories as an insight into some of the exciting research happening now in Australia. Keep an eye on our social media channels for more about this year’s finalists.

Research Australia is a passionate advocate for the importance of data in advancing Australia’s health sector. Through the Data Innovation category in the Health and Medical Research Awards, we celebrate an individual or team whose work could revolutionise the use of data in the medical research field.

This year, our finalists include the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit (NPESU) at UNSW, who are pioneers of data innovation in the Australian IVF sector.

SHAPING THE FUTURE OF FERTILITY 

 Infertility is a growing public health challenge, making IVF an important focus area for health researchers. Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples[1] and is amplified by the continuing societal trend towards later childbearing. As a result, more people are having children using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) with 1 in 18 children born using ART in Australia[2].

Embarking on IVF treatment is a major life decision that can have profound effects on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Patient decision aids such as online calculators for success or risk have been shown to help patients feel more comfortable during the decision-making process. However, up until recently, there has been no way for patients to independently compare IVF clinics across Australia, or to gain an unbiased estimate of their own chances of IVF success.

INNOVATING DATA FOR DECISION-MAKING

 Supported by a MRFF Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research

Grant, the NPESU developed and launched the YourIVFSuccess website – the first Australian website to help consumers make informed decisions about IVF treatment. The website includes two consumer tools that were co-designed with end-users and demonstrate best practice in co-production, AI modelling, and interactive website design.

The website allows consumers to compare IVF clinics across Australia and utilises machine learning to provide those contemplating IVF with highly personalised predictions of their chances of success.

Since its launch in 2021, YourIVFSuccess has made a significant impact, with more than 110,000 visitors and 158,000 sessions, and monthly site visits continuing to increase.

“Our recent evaluation showed that the YourIVFSuccess Estimator has greatly helped those contemplating or going through IVF to realign their expectations of treatment success and to feel clearer in their decision-making,” says NPESU Director Professor Georgina Chambers.

“We are also updating the Estimator to include IVF success rates for same-sex couples, single females, and those contemplating using donor eggs or donor sperm. This will make YourIVFSuccess Estimator the only one in the world to cater for these patients, which is an important step for providing more inclusive IVF treatments.”

We look forward to celebrating the finalists and announcing the winners of the National Health and Medical Research Awards at a gala ceremony in Sydney on November 2. A small number of tickets remain: purchase here.

[1] IVF Australia. (n.d.). What is infertility? IVF Australia.

https://www.ivf.com.au/planning-for-pregnancy/what-is-infertility#:~:text=Infertility%20is%20defined%20as%20the,Australian%20couples%20of%20reproductive%20age.

[2] Chambers GM, Newman JE and Paul RC. (2023). Assisted reproductive technology in Australia and New Zealand 2021. (2023). UNSW Sydney.

Frontiers Award Finalist – Professor Jürgen Götz

Introducing our 2023 finalists: Professor Jürgen Götz

Research Australia is proud to recognise all of the outstanding finalists in this year’s Health and Medical Research Awards, and we look forward to celebrating their work at the Award gala on November 2.

This year, we’re sharing a few of their fantastic stories as an insight into some of the exciting research happening now in Australia. Keep an eye on our social media channels for more about this year’s finalists.

The Frontiers Award acknowledges research by an individual or group that transforms medical knowledge into practical solutions, with the promise of improving health outcomes within Australia and potentially abroad. The Frontiers Award is generously sponsored by the Australian National University.

Among this year’s outstanding finalists in this exciting category is Professor Jürgen Götz, Director of the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research at the University of Queensland, who has helped develop a portable ultrasound scanning device with a range of applications in dementia treatments.

DEMENTIA: A COMPLEX AND COSTLY CHALLENGE

Dementia involves the loss of memory and cognitive abilities and is a serious health challenge both in Australia and globally. Every three seconds, someone in the world develops dementia and almost half a million Australians live with it[1]. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is expected to increase to more than 800,000 by 2058[2].

So far, research efforts have focused on drug treatments, but with limited success. To date, more than 200 therapeutic drug candidates have failed, and despite decades of ongoing research there is still no cure for dementia.

A PORTABLE TREATMENT WITH GLOBAL POTENTIAL

Professor Götz and his team have created a non-invasive ultrasound device that can be used to directly treat dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as to enhance the effectiveness of current drug treatments.

Professor Götz has a long track record of showing how the peptide amyloid-β and the protein Tau lead to dementia. Through his studies, Professor Götz has further successfully demonstrated how various therapeutic ultrasound techniques can be used to clear these pathologies. In animal studies, Professor Götz and his team have also shown how ultrasound techniques can safely open the blood-brain barrier and help deliver drugs directly to target brain areas. Finally, they have built an investigational medical device that is currently being trialled in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

By 2036, the total cost of dementia is predicted to increase by 81 per cent to $25.8 billion[3].

The portable technology developed by Professor Götz and his team has the potential to be a low-cost, non-invasive treatment that can massively reduce healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes worldwide.

“The choice between ultrasound or drug treatment doesn’t have to be binary. Ultrasound therapy can go hand-in-hand with emergent drug treatments,” said Professor Götz.

“Given that 98 per cent of drugs developed for brain diseases do not enter the brain, the therapeutic potential of our strategy extends beyond Alzheimer’s and could go a long way in improving treatments for many other diseases of the brain.”

The winners of Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards will be announced at a gala award ceremony in Sydney on November 2. A small number of tickets remain: purchase here.

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Dementia in Australia. AIHW, Australian Government.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alzheimer’s Australia. (2017). Economic cost of dementia in Australia: 2016-2056. NATSEM, University of Canberra.

Doubling Philanthropy by 2030

The Commonwealth Government has set an ambitious target to double philanthropic giving by 2023 and has asked the Productivity Commission (PC) to advise on how this can be achieved. The PC has launched an Inquiry, and in this first phase it is seeking data on philanthropy and ideas on actions the Government can take to achieve this goal.

Philanthropy plays a critical role in funding health and medical research and innovation in Australia. Research Australia’s submission has provided information about the nature of philanthropy in our sector and the role it plays in complementing other sources of funding. We have drawn on our many years of annual opinion polling to provide information about motivations for donating to research, tax deductions, trends in donations and attitudes to charities partnering with government to jointly fund research.

We have suggested that a more strategic approach by the Australian Government to working with charities could lead to efficiencies and greater effectiveness in the funding of HMR.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

We will also respond to the second stage of the PC’s Inquiry, later in 2023. If you would like to join our working group on philanthropy, please email Greg Mullins, Head of Policy, at greg.mullins@researchaustralia.org

Research to support Health Literacy

In October 2022, The Commonwealth Department of Health released a draft National Health Literacy Strategy for consultation. The new Health Literacy strategy is being developed under the National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030. As such the Literacy Strategy is intended to provide the public with the skills and abilities to maintain their own health and wellbeing as well as improve interactions with the health system.

Research Australia’s submission to the consultation emphasised the role research can play in supporting the implementation of the Strategy, and the need to recognise older Australians as a priority target population.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

Research Australia’s Pre Budget Submission September 2022

Research Australia’s submission ahead of the Alabnese Government’s first Budget, to be handed down in October, acknowledges the large debt the Government is faced with. In keeping with the Government’s objective to fund activities that will boost productivity, we have outlined how investing in health and medical research can help grow Australia’s economy and provide well paid jobs, now and for future generations.

We have reiterated the need for a National Health and Medical Research Strategy and for a research workforce plan to support this objective.

Research Australia’s submission is available here.

MEDIA RELEASE – RESEARCH AUSTRALIA ANNOUNCES NEW DATE FOR ITS 19TH ANNUAL HEALTH AND MEDICAL RESEARCH AWARDS THURSDAY DECEMBER 8, 2022

Research Australia will hold the 19th Annual Health and Medical Research Awards on Thursday 8th December 2022, at the Metropolis, Melbourne.

As the national peak body for health and medical research, Research Australia’s Awards are highly regarded and coveted by the health and medical research sector. These prestigious awards are our recognition of the outstanding efforts and achievements of individuals and teams who drive and support the opportunities that health and medical innovation bring to each and every one of our lives.

Acknowledging talent and excellence in our sector is not only a key part of Research Australia’s role in advocacy for health and medical research, it is also paramount to encouraging future generations of great researchers. This event allows student, early to mid-career researchers and the sector’s more prominent influencers to share an experience which not only celebrates current innovation but encourages future growth in research, funding and corporate leadership.

Past Award winners include: Professor Brendan Murphy AC, The Hon Bob Carr, Lady Mary Fairfax AC OBE, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE, Laureate Professor and 2018 Scientist of the Year, Nicholas Talley AC, Sir Frank Lowy AC, Connie Johnson OAM & Samuel Johnson OAM and Andrew Forrest AO and Dr Nicola Forrest AO.  Prominent politicians, both Federal and State, are invited to attend each year to speak and present the Awards.

For more information on Research Australia’s Annual Health & Medical Research awards and how you can nominate someone to win one of these prestigious awards visit the website.

ENDS

Research Australia is the national peak body for health and medical research, representing the entire health and medical research pipeline.

Enabling the ARC Industry Fellowships Scheme to work for HMR

Announced in February this year, the ARC Industry Fellowships Scheme is intended to support all of the Government’s strategic target industries, including medical products.

Research Australia believes that the Scheme is at risk of failing to meet its objective of supporting the strategic area of Medical Products unless some form of exemption from, or relaxation of, the ARC’s Medical Research Policy is applied to the Industry Fellowships.

This issue has been raised by Research Australia in ARC consultations on the guidelines for the new Scheme and in a formal submission to the ARC. The submission is available here