Hunter Well Placed to Attract Biomedical Funding

Dec 9 2015

A sustained focus on medical research translation in the Hunter should provide a solid platform to capitalise on the Federal Government’s new $250 million Biomedical Translation package tied to the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson says the 1500-plus affiliated researchers and support staff from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health have the skill, knowledge and technology to deliver world-leading innovations across a raft of disease areas.

“Our pioneering model of translational research, which encourages an information flow between bioscientists and clinicians, is clearing the way for new therapies and devices to be developed efficiently and affordably,” Professor Nilsson said.

“Game-changing advances can emerge quite suddenly in the health sphere when you provide the right research environment and harness the support of surrounding industries.”

At any given time, Hunter researchers are engaged in clinical trials valued at over $100 million, testing and developing new precision pharmaceuticals and personalised treatment regimes.

This work is critical to Australia’s prosperity, Professor Nilsson added, bringing employment opportunities and reducing the economic burden of an ageing population.

“Turning good ideas into commercial realities requires an expansive pool of expertise so we can’t simply look for better treatments but have to find opportunities for high-skilled jobs right across the spectrum,” he said.

“Our long-term vision is to help facilitate the establishment of a biotech cluster for drug compounds, medical devices and healthcare delivery. In the Hunter we have the necessary infrastructure, expertise and entrepreneurship within close proximity to major markets.”

A number of Hunter-grown research projects are already reaping significant investment returns:

  • Associate Professor Darren Shafren has demonstrated the effectiveness of a common cold virus (Coxsackievirus A21) as a potential anti-cancer agent, creating a novel compound known as CAVATAK to attack melanoma cells.
  • Diabetes researchers are developing an automated ‘Artificial Pancreas’ with an intelligent algorithm designed to calculate precise insulin dosage, while also working on a saliva-based testing system using a 2D printer that will potentially negate blood monitoring.
  • Global adaptations of the Healthy Dads Healthy Kids obesity prevention program are being funded in the US and UK.

Professor Nilsson added that HMRI’s own translation-focused strategic planning had been aligned with the McKeon Review findings released in 2013.

“It’s pleasing to see that the Biomedical Translation Fund represents implementation of much of the McKeon blueprint,” he said. “We’re on the same page as the Government with the new systematic approach to science and innovation policy.”

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.