Funding for Research into Cancers with Low Survival Rates

Research Australia has made a submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into Funding for Research into Cancers with Low Survival Rates. Many of the Terms of Reference have relevance beyond brain cancers, cancers with low survival rates and low incidence cancers; our submission approaches the Inquiry from this broader perspective.

Government funding available for health and medical research is finite. While cancers with low survival rates are undoubtedly worthy of more funding, any increase in funding for one area has implications for the funding available to other disease areas. Improvements in survival are related to global research rather than specifically to the volume or subject of Australian research, and it is important that Australian researchers and patients have access to, and contribute to this global effort. This is particularly relevant for low incidence cancers and other rare diseases, because the number of patients in Australia is likely to be low and appropriate research collaborators are in many cases likely to be based overseas. Thus, when allocating funding we also need to consider the level of funding available and the research activity undertaken globally.

Research Australia also suggests there is merit in looking at approaches taken by other countries. This includes strategies such as rare disease policies that have been established in more than 20 countries as a means of providing a policy framework for a considered and comprehensive approach to the provision of research, diagnosis and access to treatment for rare diseases. In an area where the only available therapies are often experimental, a single policy that brings research, diagnosis and treatment together is valuable.

Read the full Research Australia submission today.

National Science Statement

Yesterday the Australian government launched the National Science Statement, outlining its commitment to science as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

This comes in advance of the 2030 Strategic Plan for Innovation, Science and Research, with Innovation and Science Australia commissioned by the government to review Australia’s performance in science and innovation, and develop a plan through to 2030.

Research Australia welcomes the Statement’s long-term approach to science in Australia; in particular, the explicit references to secure and sustainable investment and recognition of the role of research as a central contributor to GDP.  Continue reading “National Science Statement”

WA Election: Health and Medical Researchers the other big winners

13 March 2017

Australia’s peak body for health and medical research has congratulated new incoming Western Australia Premier, Hon Mark McGowan MLA, especially the new Premier’s commitment to support WA medical researchers and innovators ‘like never before’.

“Researchers were rightly buoyed by election commitment Premier-Elect McGowan made in February this year to the establishment of a Future Health Research and Innovation (HRI) Fund. Continue reading “WA Election: Health and Medical Researchers the other big winners”

Australian H&MR Research Facts

Funding health & medical research in Australia


  • $6.5 billion is spent on health and medical research (HMR) in Australia each year
  • 20% of all Australian Research and Development (R&D) is spent on HMR (Total R&D is around $32 billion)
  • 3.6% of all spending on health is spent on HMR (total health expenditure in 2016-17 was $180.7 billion)
  • 0.37% of GDP was spent on HMR (Australian GDP in 2016-17 was $1,758 billion)
  • More than half of all Australian HMR is undertaken in the higher education sector
  • HMR accounts for one third of all R&D expenditure in higher education institutions
  • 19% of all HMR expenditure is in the private sector


Expenditure by sector

The following table is an estimate of where HMR expenditure occurs in Australia

Location of expenditure $million

Aust. Govt.
(including agencies)
States & Territories Higher Education Not For Profit Business Total
131 462 3,705 932 1,253 6,483
2% 7% 57% 14.5% 19.5% 100%

The estimates are complicated because they are:

  • based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data and the ABS surveys the different sectors for different periods. Government and NFP data is for 2016/17; Higher Education is for the calendar year 2016 and Business is for 2015/16
  • the ABS categorises data by Socioeconomic Objective (SEO) and by Field of Research (FoR). The SEO of Health generally provides the most accurate estimate but the FoR of medical and health sciences is used for Business because most HMR in industry is classified not under the SEO of health but under the SEO of manufacturing. The ABS data is not provided at sufficient detail to enable health R&D to be extracted from the SEO of manufacturing.

Australian Government 

While only a relatively small proportion of HMR is undertaken directly by the Australian Government it is responsible for providing the funding for a much larger proportion, particularly in higher education and Medical Research Institutes (MRIs). This includes funding provided through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC). It also includes funding provided to universities through the block grants system, which is tied to the volume of each university’s research and the number of research students.

Australian Government funding of HMR through universities and MRIs

NHMRC Funding $841 million
ARC Funding contribution to HMR (10%) $76 million
Infrastructure Block Grants contribution to HMR (34%) $735 million
Total $1,652 million

Source: Australian Government Science Research and Innovation Budget Tables 2017-18

This estimate does not take into account taxation measures such as the R&D Tax Incentive and programs like the Department of Industry Innovation and Science Entrepreneurs Program, which support the development and commercialisation of research generally, including new medicines, medical devices and therapies. It also doesn’t reflect other Commonwealth Government support provided to universities and MRIs which are used for new buildings and facilities that support HMR.

State and Territory Governments

State and territory governments are responsible for funding research undertaken within the State and territory hospital systems; the provision of support to MRIs for the indirect costs of research; and other programs to support R&D, a portion of which funds HMR. State and territory governments also provide capital funding for stand-alone research institutions (e.g. the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute) and for organisations that combine research with health care delivery (e.g. the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre).

It is likely that the total support provided to HMR significantly exceeds the $462 million per annum captured in the table above.

Higher Education

The bulk of Australian HMR is conducted in the Australian higher education sector, and is funded by the Australian Government, philanthropy and universities own funds from other sources, including teaching revenue for the Australian Government and students. Approximately one third (34%) of all research expenditure by the higher education sector is on health and medical research.

Source: ABS 8111.0, Research and Experimental Development, Higher Education Organisations, Australia 2016, SEO Health ($3,705,179,000) divided by total expenditure ($10,877,517,000).

Not for Profit sector

The Not for Profit sector spent $1.04 billion on R&D in 2016/17, of which $932 million (90%) was spent on the SEO of Health. The concentration of research in the non profit sector on HMR reflects the dominance of this sector by Medical Research Institutes (MRIs). The next highest categories were Education and Training with $42 million, manufacturing ($16 million) and animal products ($14 million).

Source: ABS 8109, Government and Private Non Profit Organisations, 2016-17 Table 1, PNP expenditure by SEO, 2016-17


Expenditure on HMR represents approximately 6% of total R&D spending by business. Much of the R&D expenditure by businesses has an emphasis on the ‘D’ (Development) in R&D rather than research. For this reason it is captured in the broad SEO of Manufacturing rather than Health; the Field of Research (FoR) of Medical and Health Sciences is used in the above table to estimate business expenditure on H&MR.

Source: 8104 Research and Experimental Development, Businesses, Australia, 2015-16 FoR for Medical & Health Sciences ($1,123,956,000) divided by total expenditure ($18,849.438,000)

More information contact Greg Mullins, Head of Policy,

Image credit: Professor Len Harrison, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Victorian Health and Medical Research Strategy

In responding to the Victorian Government’s consultation on its strategy for Health and Medical Research, Research Australia has emphasised the ability of the State Government to influence how health and medical research is conducted through the funding it provides for health and medical research, its role as a key stakeholder in the provision of health care, and its power to legislate to provide a supportive environment for HMR. Key recommendations include continuing to support initiatives that bring researchers and the health system together (Academic Health Science Centres, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre), providing incentives for further collaboration and multi disciplinary research, and improving researchers’ access to health records and other data held by the State Government.

Victorian Health and Medical Research Strategy