Medical research needs $30b funding boost: McKeon

Researchers have welcomed Simon McKeon’s review into health and medical research. verticalpharmacy/Flickr

The cost of healthcare is escalating at an unsustainable rate and an additional $2-3 billion a year for the next ten years should be invested in research to address the problem, according to a government-commissioned review of health and medical research.

The review panel, chaired by 2011 Australian of the year and CSIRO chairman Simon McKeon, has made 21 recommendations, including redirecting at least 3% of the Federal Government’s public sector health budget to research.

The panel argues funding should be focused on research into diseases that most affect Australians as well as into indigenous health, rural and remote health, and the developing field of personalised medicine.

It has also recommended re-engineering the granting process administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council to deliver more five-year grants, attracting new investment in research by better commercialising Australian research discoveries, and promoting philanthropic investment in Australian health and medical research.

The panel also recommended the establishment of “Integrated Health Research Centres”, bringing together hospital networks, universities and medical research institutes, to fast-track the discoveries that will bring the greatest benefits to patients.

Doug Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and the leader of the Discoveries Need Dollars campaign to protect medical research funding, welcomed the recommendations, and said they would bring about substantial economic benefits from lowered healthcare costs and improved productivity.

“I urge the government and opposition to commit to fully adopting the review’s recommendations.”

Darren Saunders, cancer biologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, said pegging funding to the health budget would provide much more stability in the long-term outlook.

But he said as researchers were awaiting news from the government on whether research grants could be put on hold, questions remained about the cost of implementing the recommendations.

“It’s clear the review panel have got the message that there are things to be fixed. The big question is how it will be implemented - that’s going to be the real challenge.”

Ted Maddess, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, wrote one of the 300 submissions to the review.

Professor Maddess said the call for more funding was good news, with the recommendations on five-year grants and the development of research centres likely to deliver more efficiency.

“More sustained funding is probably more important than just more funding, although there’s no doubt we’re not funded at the appropriate level.”

He added that virtual institutes modelled on the Canadian system would be a step in the right direction.

“The current system is inefficient you just get going on a project and then you have to reapply for funding.”

Dr Saunders agreed a move to five-year grants, along with other measures to train, support and retain the research workforce would be helpful.