Some have said that it’s been a slow build for the Medical Research Future Fund, but it’s worth bearing in 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 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 research and technology development for health and medicine. 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 and other diseases and complex conditions, by identifying single-point mutations in key genes. This in-depth knowledge has the potential to change the way practitioners administer clinical treatment to patients in the future. As we all age, that’s something we should all be excited about.
The Genomics Health Futures Mission will also fund targeted and adaptive clinical trials and ways to improve research, industry collaboration and investment. Priority projects include a new pre-conception screening trial for rare and debilitating birth disorders such as spinal muscular atrophy.
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 5 million Australians.
The program is expected to alleviate a key problem that sometimes faces early-stage health and medical research
– a relatively shallow pool of capital available to be invested in commercialising these promising discoveries.
An expert advisory committee, led by me in my capacity as an 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 overarching Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan will also invest: $240 million over four years for a Frontier Health and Medical Research program; $248 million over five years for an expanded rare cancers, rare diseases and unmet-need clinical trials program; and $94 million over four years for industry research collaborations and biomedical and medical technology programs.
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 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 for 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.
VC has backed countless medical successes over the last few years, including from 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 a board member of the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, which provides advice and recommendations to the government about the MRFF’s strategy and priorities.