Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector is showing encouraging signs for future investors.
According to the latest report by the Australian government’s MedTech and Pharma Growth Centre, MTPConnect, exports from the sector grew 30% to $5.2 billion in 2016.
MTPConnect’s report also highlights growth in the wide range of support services that bolster commercialisation of medical discoveries.
From patent attorneys, tax accountants, regulatory experts and clinical trials specialists, to biotech and large pharma executives, there is a breadth of skills now enabling research discoveries to cross the so-called funding valley of death to reach maturity.
While groups like MTPConnect, Accelerating Australia, IP Group and the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) are supporting researchers to commercialise their inventions, Australia has one particular hurdle that needs to be overcome before commercialising research can truly flourish.
That is our reluctance to invest.
It takes time to get a discovery from the bench to the bedside, often 10 – 20 years, and the significance of a discovery can be hard to understand.
And there is usually not one but two valleys of death.
Yet when our discoveries go overseas those factors don’t appear to dissuade investors in other countries.
Israel, America and England for example take a long term view and aren’t daunted by the size of the funding that’s required to get a research breakthrough into production.
As a result international investors are reaping the benefits, which are on average a three to one return.
Returns come from playing the long game, having a diverse portfolio with a handful of biotech investments, and having advisors who understand the industry and the path to commercialisation.
That pathway starts with the discovery being rigorously tested, peer reviewed and the IP secured.
These steps take about $2 million.
Then there’s the process of proving the discovery works outside of the test tube. Next big pharma want the results of a clinical trial in people.
The first part of this phase requires between $5 million and $15 million. It’s at this point that Australian inventions often go offshore.
The challenges during this second valley of death come from big pharma’s desire for risk mitigation and the extensive due diligence processes of regulators like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, notwithstanding this complex pathway, medical research discoveries have been great investments for people willing to invest for the long term.
Ian Frazer’s development of the vaccine Gardasil, which protects against cervical cancer, took more than 15 years.
The bionic ear was in the delivery pipeline for more than a decade. Closer to home, founded in Perth, iCeutica successfully took several drugs into clinical trials, and soon after acquisition by a US company, three drugs progressed to FDA approval.
At the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, several discoveries from our research labs are at different stages of development.
MiReven is commercialising pioneering work on a new cancer treatment, a tumour suppressor that can knock-out an essential growth receptor for cancer – especially one of the deadliest cancers, liver cancer.
Dimerix Limited is a clinical stage biotechnology company, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:DXB).
Its novel treatment is being tested in patients with chronic kidney disease, both rare forms and the most common, which is caused by diabetes.
OncoRes Medical Pty Ltd is developing a handheld imaging probe to assist surgeons with the delineation between tumour and healthy tissue.
The company has recently secured up to $6 million of funding to commercialise this surgical tool, developed by researchers at the Perkins, UWA and the WA Department of Health.
Proteomics International Laboratories Ltd (ASX: PIQ), a medical technology company based at the Perkins, this year launched a world-first predictive test for early detection of diabetic kidney disease.
The test will become available in several global jurisdictions this year, including the US and is a direct result of an R&D project between the Centre for Food and Genomic Medicine led by the Perkins, Proteomics, and the UWA Medical School.
‘Philanthropy with benefits’ is another way of looking at investments in medical research. Patients benefit, an industry is supported, jobs are created and the overall health of our community improves when a discovery is delivered from the bench to the bedside.