Victoria could use its unique position as a global hub for disease-fighting research, testing and manufacturing to help revive its economic fortunes and secure a larger slice of the billions of dollars being spent on health globally.
The local boss of $192 billion pharmaceuticals giant Bristol Myers Squibb, which has its Australian headquarters in Mulgrave, says Victoria and other parts of the country are in a position to use existing infrastructure to attract more investment and play a greater role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and future global health emergencies.
The company’s Australian managing director, Neil MacGregor, said Victoria, along with the nation, had shown how solid its medicine supply chains were throughout the pandemic, and that attracting global clinical trials would provide a much-needed boost to the state’s economic recovery.
Despite the city being devastated by a second wave of COVID-19 that killed almost 800 people and shut down the economy for months, Melbourne’s reputation as a health science hub has not deteriorated during the pandemic.
The coronavirus crisis cost Victoria an estimated 200,000 jobs, contributed to a state budget deficit of $23.3 billion in the last financial year and will send the government’s net debt to almost $155 billion in the next three years as the state borrows to stimulate the economy.
But Mr MacGregor, who oversees 300 staff working in Melbourne and Sydney, said the building blocks in Victoria and across the country were strong.
“Manufacturing is quite hard, complex, with large [capital expenditure] and would require time to set up,” he said. “If we’re talking speed and the ability to grow, with clinical trials we have the capability and infrastructure already set up in Australia, so it’s just a matter of leveraging an asset.”
Melbourne already hosts world-renowned centres such as the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, and companies with household names, such as CSL, Pfizer, GSK and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Significant investments have been made in recent weeks to boost the state’s drug manufacturing and research capabilities further.
Biotechnology giant CSL committed this month to building an $800 million influenza vaccine plant at Tullamarine after securing $1 billion from the federal government in a 10-year supply deal.
The Andrews government unveiled the $2 billion “Breakthrough Victoria” fund in its state budget last week, aiming to drive investment in sectors including healthcare, life sciences and agribusiness. Funding was also earmarked for a new Australian Institute for Infectious Disease in the Parkville biomedical precinct.
Jaala Pulford, Victoria’s Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, said the government was determined to improve the state’s standing as a top global medical research hub.
“Our goal is for us [in Melbourne] to retain our standing in the top three or so medical research communities in the world, and then take it to a next level,” Ms Pulford said
She said the government’s fund, which is projected to create 15,700 jobs across a range of industries, would help keep Victoria front of the pack for research and innovation.
“We have this extraordinary world-class expertise … the whole community has an interest in this.”
More than $1 billion a year is invested in Australian clinical trials, with billions more on the table for export and commercialisation. According to global research firm Startup Genome, life sciences companies based in Melbourne generated $16 billion in economic activity in 2019-20.
Dr Dan Grant, the boss of MTP Connect, a federal government backed group set up in 2015 to help accelerate medical technology growth, said there were “huge opportunities” on the table in Victoria and across the country.
It is estimated clinical trials and research employ as many as 70,000 Australians, Dr Grant said.
“There are huge opportunities, and as our government moves towards our national manufacturing strategy, it’s not just about production. It’s about the pre-production and post-production [of treatments].”
Dr Grant said policymakers should view the sector, “just like you could view foreign fee-paying students”, as a key services export.
“There are strong economic reasons to continue to build this. And we have been working very hard to promote Australia for clinical trials.”
He said doubling down on research and trials investments would also have a big pay-off for local patients.
“Things like clinical trials are not just about economics and jobs. They’re about making sure patients are getting access to advanced treatments, and that clinicians are being exposed to them.”
Bristol Myers Squibb does not manufacture products in Australia, but managing director Mr MacGregor said it did have a strong research pipeline here. The company is currently running 74 clinical trials, and invests about $24 million a year in research.
Industry experts in biotechnology have been championing the use of Australia’s already strong research sector to score economic wins as the world seeks to recover from the pandemic.
University of Queensland professor Trent Munro, one of the team leading Australia’s quest for a coronavirus vaccine, said there was an opportunity to “enhance and mature” the country’s research hubs and manufacturing capabilities. He said he would prefer a national approach rather than state-by-state plans to achieve this.
“While the full-time equivalent [job] counts in these types of initiatives are small compared to construction or mining, the quality of the jobs is very high, as is the peripheral growth in supporting industries, so it’s really an umbrella opportunity,” he said.
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Source: Thanks smh.com