St Georges crusade

A LEADING figure in Australia’s biotechnology industry has returned to Perth to head a new research house, complete with plans to tap into St Georges Terrace to fund the sector’s development in WA.

Sixteen years after molecular biologist Dr Simon Carroll left to study in the US, the scientist has been appointed as director of WA Biomedical Research Institute, a venture put together largely by Curtin and Murdoch universities.

Prominent Margaret River resident and investment banker with Macquarie, Edward Tait has been appointed chair the WABRI board.

A former CSIRO scientist, Dr Carroll said his biotechnology experience was not limited to science and he had played a role in the sector’s commercial processes, recently managing a $26 million deal between Australian scientists and a UK company wanting to commercialise their research into using of plastics in the human body.

He said the WA Government would have to match other States’ funding of the sector but he was also very keen to use private capital in WA which already has a thriving biotechnology sect-or, including listed companies worth a combined $556 million.

“My goal is take bio-technology to St Georges Terrace,” Dr Carroll told Business News.

“I want to link Perth to Melbourne and Brisbane and other centres of biotechnology in Australia.”

“We want to add value.”

“There is a wealth of medical and biomedical research being undertaken in Perth which has the capacity to be developed into international applications.”

Dr Carroll said his commercial background includes an MBA from the University of WA, which he earned at the same time as his PhD, and a founding stake in the Margaret River Cheese Company.

Biotechnology has al-ready been touted as the next big thing for investment markets following the wave of investment in Internet-related investment.

The Queensland and Victorian Governments have offered big incentives to companies conducting research and development in their states in an effort to become a hub for this activity in the future.

Singapore, too, has targeted biotechnology as a key sector in its bid to become a knowledge-driven centre of Asia.

WA already has a vibrant and growing biotechnology sector with long running companies such as Biotech International being joined on the stock market by newcomers like VRI Biomedical.

However, it not all gone smoothly with Biotech, now headquartered in Brisbane, receiving more publicity for its boardroom battles than its corporate achievements in the field and some players warning that there is a risk of the stock market getting ahead of the sector’s technological progress.

Ben Constable, Q-Vis chief operating officer and a partner in technology consultant T2C, is confident the sector can deliver but believes the State Government needs to deal with some of the big picture issues which well help this formative industry develop to its full potential.

"I think we have to take a five to 10 year view, in terms of developing a critical mass of good people, not just at the scientific level but also at the commercial level," Mr Constable said.

Former Biotech chief and head of Genesis Biomedical Dr Saliba Sassine said the State Government was set to release a report on the biotechnology sector next week.

Dr Sassine welcomed the arrival of Dr Carroll, pointing out that keeping talent in WA is one of the key challenges facing the industry.

"It is all about skills," he said.

"I think getting Simon Carroll here is a good start."

WABRI, which Dr Carroll is to head, has been established with university and State funding amounting to $13 million over five years.

The animal health division of pharmacuetical giant Smith Kline Beecham has also invested $700,000 in the institute for research into new treatments for parasitic diseases.

Dr Carroll said scientists at Murdoch and Curtin decided they could achieve more in a collabrative institution.

The institute has also joined the Lions Eye Institute, the Institute of Child Health Research and the WA Institute for Medical Research in a consortium called G4 which is taking a joint approach to developing WA’s research and development capabilities.

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