OPINION PIECE | COVID-19 reminds us why we invest in Australian health and medical research

Not since World War II, has Australia and the world been under such strict constraints, with limits on where we can travel, what we can buy and who we can socialise with.

Our scientists, like our health workforce, are working around the clock, racing to find the best possible solutions to this global health crisis. As our Prime Minister has said, this crisis could last for six months and indeed beyond. It is in these trying times that Australians look to health and medical researchers for answers.

Health and medical research must also be part of the political solution, with our researchers standing next to our leaders, both advising and supporting, as they make the crucial decisions that affect everyone.

Our world-leading researchers have been helping explain what this virus is, how it behaves and spreads, how to detect it and how we can protect ourselves. For more than 80 years, we Australians have been investing in our research workforce; via the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the CSIRO, and more recently, the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and, it is in times like these, that we reap the returns on these investments.

The sane, definitive way out of this crisis is an effective treatment for those infected and the development of a vaccine scaled up and produced en masse to protect the wider population.

Australia is leading the charge in many aspects; we have research leaders such as Professor Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, at UNSW’s Kirby Institute tracking Australia’s circumstances against the spread of COVID-19 in other nations so we can plan the next phase.  James McCaw, Professor of Mathematical Biology at the University of Melbourne is using mathematical modelling to develop scenarios that assist that decision-making.

Researchers such as Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute has her team isolating, growing and monitoring how the immune system responds to the virus. This research capability is no accident as for several years the Doherty Institute has been leading research, funded by Australia’s NHMRC, to prepare Australia for such a situation.

The University of Queensland’s Professor Paul Young is leading the team that is developing candidate vaccines and aims to commence a trial by July. They believe that by bringing vaccine manufacture forward, to run in parallel with clinical trials, they could have a vaccine ready by as early as January. Reducing the vaccine development time to 12 months would be a remarkable achievement.

Again, this is no accident; the work at UQ on new vaccine programs started in 2018 with funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and has been focused on COVID 19 since January this year. And all of this is drawing on the work of CSIRO and its expertise in handling viruses, and in vaccine manufacture.

As many of us experience anxiety and the inconvenience of the seemingly bizarre panic buying, leading behavioural researchers, such as Dr Paul Harrison, Chair of Consumer Behaviour at Deakin University, have explained this is an emotional and understandable response to fear, an attempt to regain control in an uncertain situation.

Researchers and experts have been able to give us information we need to empower us to re-assert some control; exercising basic hand hygiene, working remotely and physical distancing or isolation if exposed to the virus.

And while it is our leaders who need to make the big decisions, they are emphasising that they are acting on expert advice. And this is critical to our confidence in them, because this is what we as a community expect that the response to a pandemic is based in science, it is rational and implementable.

Together our community – political, business and community leaders; health care providers; individuals and families – will come through this current crisis, and the contributions being made by our researchers, medics and nurses are helping ensure the best possible outcome for us all.

We are in a very different place to where we were a century ago, when the Spanish Flu struck, as we can deploy our world-class capabilities to rapidly respond using evidence-based research.   This pandemic shines a massive spotlight on the crucial importance of investment in health and medical research in Australia. It is vital for our health and our national security. We are proud of our research and medical workforce and we are exceptionally grateful that they are here.

By Chris Chapman Chair and Nadia Levin, CEO and Managing Director, Research Australia on behalf of the Research Australia Board

Research Australia is the national peak body for Australian health and medical research, representing all stages of the research pipeline, from universities and medical research institutes through to health corporates, hospitals and consumers.

www.researchaustralia.org 

 

Congratulations to the 2019 Health & Medical Research Award winners

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                              20 November 2019

Top accolades, top minds at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Awards

Australia’s biggest hearts and brightest scientific minds have been recognized in Research Australia’s 17th Health and Medical Research Awards, with honours for scientists, doctors and extraordinary Australians who are working to bring life-changing breakthroughs to patients.

Researchers working to dramatically improve the lives of patients with cancer or HIV and make childbirth safer for mothers and babies were among those honoured, as well as the community champions and philanthropists who help bring their work to life.

Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin said the calibre of the finalists demonstrated the strength of Australia’s research sector, with remarkable work emerging from new areas of health and medical study.

“Almost every day, Australian researchers uncover new insights that can change the way we treat or prevent disease,” she said. “Through incredible dedication and skill, these amazing scientists are making an indelible mark on the journey of human progress, with tangible results for the health and wellbeing of us all.

“Australia has a vibrant and innovative health and medical research sector, well represented at last night’s Awards ceremony in Melbourne. We’re honoured to present this year’s winners as an inspiring mix of researchers, advocates and philanthropists who are making a global impact on healthcare and changing lives in the process.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt delivered the keynote speech at the Awards, with an address also given by Research Australia patron Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE. Federal Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen and Victorian parliamentary secretary for medical research Frank McGuire were among the VIPs presenting the Awards.

Professor Kathryn North AC was announced as winner of Research Australia’s flagship award, the prestigious Peter Wills Medal, recognising her outstanding leadership in genomic medicine which has helped drive Australia’s international reputation in this field.

Professor North – who is Director of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – is playing a key role in integrating genetic testing and diagnosis into standard healthcare, with the aim to shorten diagnosis times, enable early intervention, and provide access to treatment for people with genetic disorders. Through her own research, she has worked to identify new disease genes and improve diagnosis, setting the benchmark for ongoing research efforts.

Associate Professor Jeremy Micah Crook and team (University of Wollongong) were awarded the inaugural Frontiers Research Award for their work using electrical stimulation to produce advanced living human neural tissue, with potentially beneficial applications for patients with neurological disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Christine Keenan (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) won the Griffith University Discovery Award for her epigenetics work which suggests an existing anti-cancer drug can ‘switch off’ and reverse the inflammation that causes asthma, potentially paving the way for the first targeted treatment addressing asthma’s root cause that would be easy for patients to take.

Pamela Galli graciously accepted the Great Australian Philanthropy Award, recognising the extraordinary generosity she has shown through The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Medical Research Trust by supporting advances particularly in cancer and child health, helping generations of researchers and patients as a testament to her late husband Lorenzo.

Professor Gordon Lynch (University of Melbourne) won the Advocacy Award for his 18-year commitment to the ABC’s Overnights program, where he translates the latest scientific and medical research into clear messages that can transform people’s health, inspiring millions of Australians to engage with research and recognise the importance of lifestyle factors in better long-term health.

Professor John Lynch (University of Adelaide) won the Data Innovation Award – sponsored by Bupa Health Foundation – for developing the South Australian Early Childhood Data Project which has provided invaluable insight for policy makers and agencies seeking to give children the best start in life.

Professor Libby Roughead (University of South Australia) received the Health Services Research Award – sponsored by the Victorian Government – for her leadership in improving medicine use within our national health services to reduce the risk of patients suffering or potentially dying as a result of problems with their medicines.

The GSK Award for Research Excellence was presented to Professor Brendan Crabb AC (Burnet Institute) for his research into infectious diseases.

Ms Levin said the competition in each category had been fierce, with all nominees displaying tremendous talent in their respective fields.

“On behalf of Research Australia, I would like to thank all our nominees, nominators and members for helping make this night a celebration of the remarkable ability and innovative spirit within this sector,” she said.

“I would also like to thank the organisations who have supported the awards, including University of NSW Sydney, Bupa Health Foundation, Griffith University, GSK, Monash University and the Ingham Institute.”

Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin is available for interviews.

Media contact: Pia Akerman, 0412 346 746. A full list of winners follows.

2019 Research Australia Award Winners

Peter Wills Medal: Named in honour of Research Australia’s Deputy Chairman, Peter Wills AC, a great leader whose work led to the inception of Research Australia. The Peter Wills Medal is the flagship award and recognises someone who has made an outstanding, long-term contribution to building Australia’s international reputation in areas of health and medical research and fostering collaboration for better health.

Winner – Professor Katherine North AC (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Great Australian Philanthropy Award: This Award profiles personal philanthropy that is outstanding in its generosity, effectiveness, vision, high impact and transformative quality. The Award recognises and encourages personal philanthropic donations over a period of time by an individual(s) or family to Australian health and medical research.

Winner – Mrs Pamela Galli (the Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Charitable Trust)

Health Services Research Award: This Award is for an individual or team who has provided leadership and made an outstanding contribution to health services research; driven research that has led to a significant improvement in healthcare; and/or has championed the development of the health services research field. Sponsored by the Victorian Government.

Winner – Professor Libby Roughead (University of South Australia)

Data Innovation Award: This Award recognises an individual or team whose innovation is considered to represent one of the most impactful new data innovations in the HMR sector within the past five years. Sponsored by Bupa Health Foundation.

Winner – Professor John Lynch (University of Adelaide)

Griffith University Discovery Award: This Award recognises an early career researcher (anytime from qualification but no more than 5 years past PhD whose paper/patent/discovery has already demonstrated its importance or impact.

Winner – Dr Christine Keenan (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)

Advocacy Award: This Award recognises and congratulates exceptional contributions made by research champions who help raise community awareness and understanding about the importance of health and medical research.

Winner – Professor Gordon Lynch (University of Melbourne)

Frontiers Research Award: This Award recognises the success of innovative health and medical research that extends existing knowledge, boundaries and/or understandings within health and medical research.

Winner – Associate Professor Jeremy Micah Crook and team (University of Wollongong)

GSK Award for Research Excellence: One of the most prestigious awards available to Australian researchers, this prize has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with potential importance to human health. This year’s Award is accompanied by a grant of $80,000 to further the winner’s research.

Winner – Professor Brendan Crabb AC (Burnet Institute)

“Rising to the challenge of medication harm requires communication and care”

One of Research Australia’s Health Services Research Award nominees, Professor Libby Roughead, wrote an article for the not-for-profit journalism organisation Croakey.

“In 2017 the World Health Organization launched a global challenge to reduce severe, avoidable harm related to medications, by fifty percent within the next five years.

Each participating country will bring its own set of circumstances to the challenge. In Australia, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care released a discussion paper earlier this year, seeking submissions on how we can use our existing systems to achieve the goal, and where we need to bridge the gaps.

Professor Libby Roughead is Director of the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre at the University of South Australia.

In the post below, she outlines the challenge ahead, reminding us that, at its heart, medication harm is a problem that centres on people.” – Croakey

Please click here to view the article

 

ALP GUARANTEES $20B HEALTH AND MEDICAL RESEARCH FUND

After years of campaigning by Research Australia, the Australian Labor Party has committed to the full $20 billion capitalisation of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) by 2020-21.

The MRFF is a once-in-a-generation plan to underwrite health and medical research, providing better health outcomes for all Australians; and a safer, better quality and more effective health system.

Research Australia CEO and Managing Director, Nadia Levin, said she was thrilled that the MRFF now has bipartisan support, with the fund to reach the full $20 billion by 2020-21.

 “Let’s be clear – every dollar invested into medical research is a dollar invested into the health of all Australians, and the health of our economy,” Ms Levin said.

 “This funding will make a tangible, measurable difference to the lives of Australians, from treatments for people touched by common killers, through to those with rare diseases.

 “It is incredibly rewarding to see both sides of politics reflecting so closely the commitment we called for in our Pre-Election Statement<https://researchaustralia.org/pre-election-statement/> on behalf of the health and medical research community.

 “We would like to express our gratitude to the Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare, Hon Catherine King MP for meeting with us recently in April to discuss the issue.

 “At the end of the day, this funding will allow new medical discoveries and treatments to bring hope to Aussie patients.

 “Research Australia recognises the significant scale of this win, which our membership has been calling for since we convened a Pre-Election summit in 2018.

 “This bipartisan support is an important underwriting of a rapidly evolving area of research and healthcare, and will further strengthen Australia’s expertise and build upon our potential.

 “The beneficiaries of the MRFF are universities, medical research institutes, not-for-profits and commercial medical research, and ultimately the Australian people and the economy.

 “I challenge people to come up with a list more worthy of support.”

 To find out more about Research Australia visit: www.researchaustralia.org<https://www.researchaustralia.org>

 For more information please contact: Lauren Devlin 0449 041 214

Research Australia Welcomes Frontier Funding Open for Application

Thursday 6 December 2018

RESEARCH AUSTRALIA WELCOMES FRONTIER FUNDING OPEN FOR APPLICATION

Research Australia has enthusiastically welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Health, Hon Greg Hunt MP, that the Frontier Health and Medical Research Program is now open and taking applications.

This morning at the University of Canberra, Minister Hunt officially launched the Frontier Health and Medical Research Program, which will give researchers significant funds for their innovative and transformational medical research.

The Government’s Frontier Health and Medical Research Program will invest $240 million over five years in cutting edge medical science which promises new treatments and technologies to improve health, and open new markets for industry growth. This includes fields such as space medicine, artificial intelligence, robotics and microbiomics.

Research Australia CEO and Managing Director, Nadia Levin, said, “There is incredible frontier research underway in Australia today which will transform the way future generations manage their health.

“Research Australia first called for a funding boost to these disciplines because we understood the potential which already exists in Australia to become a world leader in frontier disciplines.

“We absolutely welcome today’s announcement. It’s wonderful to see the Government and the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board have taken on board the views of the health and medical research sector in developing a program for investing in frontier medical innovation.”

Funded from the Medical Research Future Fund, this Australian-first program was developed in consultation with Research Australia on behalf of the health and medical research community, and consists of a two-tiered process.

In the first stage, up to ten successful applicants will receive funding of up to $1 million each over one year to develop planning for their revolutionary research projects.

In the second stage, a number of research plans developed under stage one will be chosen to receive a further funding boost to progress their ideas into new technological advances or approaches to transform the future of healthcare.

“This is new and bold health and medical research funding which takes an economies-of-scale investment approach. Importantly, it positions Australia as a valuable contender in the global health space which means more opportunities for us all,” Ms Levin said.

To apply visit: www.business.gov.au/fhmr

Media contact: Lucy Clynes, Research Australia, 0404 068 912

To view the media release, please click here

Australians embrace health and medical research in a changing landscape of healthcare

Media Release
September 12, 2018

Australians continue to place improving hospitals and healthcare as the number one spending priority for the Australian Government ahead of infrastructure, education standards and employment opportunities.

We are pleased to see that more funding for health and medical research is the 6th most important of the 27 priorities presented in the poll. (It has been consistently in top 10 ever since we started polling in 2003.)

Interest among Australians in health and medical research is high with 89% saying they are interested in health and medical research.  However, while confident in their ability to contribute to decision making about the future direction of HMR most Australians don’t know how, and many don’t believe they’d be heard.  Our governments and research organisations clearly have more work to do to meaningfully engage with the broader community.
Continue reading “Australians embrace health and medical research in a changing landscape of healthcare”

Research Australia Welcomes My Health Record Reforms


 

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE
1 August 2018

My Health Record: Health and medical researchers welcome strengthened privacy

Australia’s health and medical research sector has welcomed Government moves to strengthen privacy protections of the My Health Record.

“Australians must be able to confidently participate in this scheme. Strengthening the My Health Record Act is an important first step in ensuring public trust in the system.

“People have real concerns over privacy and access of their My Health Record and those concerns must be heard and addressed through additional communications to the public about the benefits and purpose of the My Health Record. This is too important an opportunity to forego because of a lack of information,” said Research Australia’s CEO, Ms Levin.

An overnight poll of Research Australia members shows continued support from the health and medical research community for the My Health Record, with a majority of respondents in favour of the scheme.

Research Australia has written to Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, offering the assistance of health and medical researchers in explaining how My Health Record data could be used to further vital health and medical research and improve our health system.

Research Australia is the national peak body representing the whole of the health and medical research pipeline: www.researchaustralia.org

Media contact: Lucy Clynes 0404 068 912

Corporate Giving And Innovative Research Have The Greatest Impact

Commitment, support and passion are hallmarks of organisations making a difference and this is even more significant when it’s to fight a devastating childhood cancer.

With very few treatment options and no cure yet, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a devastating childhood cancer, that is highly aggressive and difficult to treat due to the location of the tumor. The only way is through expensive medical research.

At a gala event in Melbourne last Thursday, the national advocacy body, Research Australia awarded the QBE Foundation the Leadership in Corporate Giving Award for amazing support of The Kids’ Cancer Project to raise funds to find a way to beat this terrible disease.

Continue reading “Corporate Giving And Innovative Research Have The Greatest Impact”

Inspiring action through generosity

The Great Australian Philanthropy Award was awarded to Mr Andrew Forrest AO and Mrs Nicola Forrest for their leadership in giving with impact and offering examples of good practice to encourage further social giving.

This follows their work through the Minderoo Foundation and the announcement in May of one of the Australia’s largest private donations totalling $400m. This includes $75 million dollars specifically earmarked for the Eliminate Cancer Initiative with funding to be used as planning capital to unite, encourage and reward the global cancer industry to collaborate and coordinate their efforts and specialise their focus to accelerate research, development, clinical trials and cancer care delivery.

Continue reading “Inspiring action through generosity”

Reducing Hip Fractures with data

Falling over and breaking any bone, let alone your hip, is not something any of us wants to think about, but it is all too often the reality for older people, with serious consequences.

One in 20 older hip fracture patients will die before they leave the hospital; one in 10 aren’t able to go home and instead transfer to an aged care facility, and more than half are still unable to walk after 12 months.

Continue reading “Reducing Hip Fractures with data”