WA has many advantages in terms of hosting a thriving medical research and innovation ecosystem.
We carve our own path in Western Australia.
What the past year has shown is that being bold and confident in your decision-making is absolutely vital.
Our overriding goal during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to keep Western Australians safe. Our strategies to achieve this have been very effective, with the added bonus of making our economy as robust as any in the world.
What this has done is to make people in Australia and around the world look at WA with respect and renewed interest.
What they are seeing is a state full of drive and passion, with an eye to the future and a flair for doing things differently.
When I became health minister in 2017, I moved early to ensure that medical research and innovation became a priority in health care.
I wanted our health and education systems to be instrumental in driving a forward-thinking agenda to promote WA as a global leader in health and medical researchers, and innovation, at a time when the profile and significance of these fields had never been greater.
Having listened to our leading research and innovators, I was aware that, in order to boost WA’s competitiveness in this sector, we needed to resolve the instability in funding to allow our brightest minds to focus on discovery and invention.
I was proud of many achievements during our first four years of government, some more high profile than others.
One of those achievements was establishing the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund (FHRI).
This is the centrepiece of the government’s commitment to driving health and medical research, innovation and commercialisation in WA.
The legislation for the fund passed in May last year during the early months of the pandemic. The legislation repurposed the $1.4 billion WA Future Fund, allowing interest earned on it to be directed to local health and medical research, innovation and commercialisation.
The FHRI Fund will enable secure and stable funding of $50 million from 2023.
Under the fund’s ramp-up program, $6 million of the first year’s allocation of around $24 million was dedicated to COVID-19 research, including the McGowan government’s nation-leading DETECT program.
As I said at the time: “Amid the COVID-19 emergency, it is to our health and medical researchers that we turn for hope. This fund is an investment in them.”
Establishment of the FHRI Fund marks the start of a journey to accelerate the development of health and medical research and innovation in the state, stimulating economic and workforce growth by attracting investors, and creating new industries and specialised jobs. It will direct resources to areas of the highest need or opportunity.
Beyond the FHRI Fund, the WA government is motivated to cut red tape and address barriers to research, innovation and commercialisation in the health and medical sector.
This includes current efforts to streamline ethics approvals, address privacy and data-sharing issues, and revisit the intellectual property and revenue-sharing policies to support business outcomes.
These efforts will seek to capitalise on WA’s existing advantages in hosting a thriving medical research and innovation ecosystem.
Investors, researchers and innovators can look forward to an ecosystem that includes access to a diverse population for conducting research and trialling innovations; a safe, stable geopolitical environment in a capital city regarded as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and a community that is welcoming of other cultures.
Perth also lends itself to proximity to markets. WA is in the world’s most populous business time zone, shared with roughly 24 per cent of the world’s population.
Perth is hours from Indo-Asia and now boasts direct flights to the UK, China and Japan.
Perth also has opportunity to be the eastern gateway to Africa, treading a trail blazed by our resources sector, which can be emulated by the provision of desperately needed, critical health and medical solutions.
We have so much on offer to lure both the finest minds and cautious investors.
Perth is already the home of Nobel laureates Barry Marshall and Robyn Warren, known for their ground-breaking research on Helicobacter pylori.
Perth is also home to the multi award-winning team of Steve Wilton and Sue Fletcher, whose pioneering work has led to a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a relentlessly progressive muscle wasting disease.
The treatment is keeping kids walking into their teens and is being commercialised under a licence agreement between UWA and US company Sarepta Therapeutics.
Meanwhile, local medtech businesses have proved a path to navigating the ‘valley of death’ faced by startups, including HealthEngine, OncoRes Medical and Orthocell to name a few, proving that local ideas can thrive and businesses can remain in WA in their maturity.
WA’s strong resources sector has played a vital role in our economic success, and the importance of this sector will continue.
However, diversifying the state’s economy is a central aim of this government to reduce overreliance on the resources sector.
The emerging health and medical life sciences sector presents an opportunity to grow a new, globally significant and sustainable industry to contribute to the resilience of our economy.