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Where to in medical research? Ian Frazer heads advisory board for Medical Research Future Fund

Health Minister Sussan Ley this week announced the appointment of an eight-member board to advise the Government on how funds held in the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) should be allocated. It will be headed by former Australian of the Year Professor Ian Frazer, clinical immunologist, whose team helped develop and patent the basic technology behind the HPV vaccine.

The CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (currently Anne Kelso) will have a permanent seat on the Advisory Board to support coordination of approaches.

The MRFF was, of course, the big ticket health item of the Coalition’s first budget – slated, through cuts to preventative and public health activity and the proposed GP co-payment, to deliver a $20 billion fund in 2019-2020. With the co-payment off the agenda, last year’s Budget allocated it $400 million over four years, starting with $10 million in this financial year. The Minister said it was “expected” that the MRFF will “eventually” provide around $1 billion a year in additional funding for health and medical research.

Some love it. Others have big concerns about the focus it will bring on medical research, “petri dishes versus patients”, on how funding will be allocated, and where funds have been lost. As The Australian described it:

Cuts to spending on pharmaceuticals, health assessments, dentistry, electronic ­record-keeping, stoma appliances and cutting and merging back-office functions…will help bankroll the fund..

See this previous article which suggested better ways to spend the fund. And this reaction on Twitter:Fund twitter

So, a question for Croakey readers: what does the makeup of the Advisory Board tell us about those concerns?

The Minister said in her statement:

The new Australian Medical Research Advisory Board will comprise leading experts in medical research and innovation, health policy and commercialisation, including experience and knowledge in philanthropy, consumer issues and translating research into frontline health care services.

Through their expert and independent advice to the Government, the Advisory Board will play a key role in delivering on the MRFF’s agenda to support our world-class researchers and reinforce our nation’s great research reputation.

She said the MRFF is the single largest investment in medical research ever made in this country and a core part of the Australian Government’s health reform and innovation agenda….

The MRFF will help us to understand diseases and support the search for possible cures or preventions. It also provides much needed additional funding to the health and medical research sector to address national priorities, drive innovation, improve delivery of health care, boost the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system and contribute to economic growth.

Through the MRFF, the Australian Government will provide the resources and the opportunities for our best and brightest medical scientists to look for and find more ways to ‘beat’ cancers and other diseases which profoundly affect the lives of Australians every day.

The Advisory Board will develop the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy every five years, and associated Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities every two years. It will also provide advice to the Health Minister on other matters that relate to use of funding from the MRFF.

Ley said the Advisory Board will shortly begin a consultation to distil the right strategic direction and priorities recommended for investment, and will ensure any expenditure will “have a strong business case.”

The Advisory Board (with bios provided by the Minister) comprises:

Chair, Professor Ian Frazer AC is Chair of the Translation Research Institute Foundation Board, President of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science and member of the Commonwealth Science Council. He is also Chairman of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s Medical Research Advisory Committee.

Professor Peter Høj is Vice Chancellor and President of The University of Queensland. Before this, he was Vice-Chancellor and President University of South Australia; CEO of the Australian Research Council; and Managing Director of the Australian Wine Research Institute.

Professor Doug Hilton is president of The Association of Australian Medical Research Institute, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Head of the Department of Medical Biology at The University of Melbourne.

Professor Karen Reynolds is Director of the Medical Device Research Institute and the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP), as well as Deputy Dean of the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics at Flinders University. She established the MDPP to convene researchers, industry and end users of medical technologies, resulting in novel devices that improve diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients.

Dr Deborah Rathjen is the Managing Director of Bionomics Corporation, based in Thebarton, Adelaide. She began with a virtual company which has turned Bionomics into a notable Biotechnology/Biomedical firm with a $200 million market capitalisation. Her role in developing cancer treating drugs and other medications is a large contribution to Bionomics’ current success in the biotechnology market.

Mr Yasser El-Ansary is the Chief Executive of the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association where he is responsible for leading the strategic direction of the organisation’s work in representing the private equity and venture capital industry in Australia. He has almost 20 years’ experience as a business adviser and public policy expert, through his previous roles with PwC, Rio Tinto, Australand Property Group, as well as the Department of Treasury in Canberra.

Ms Jennifer Williams is the previous Chief Executive of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Ms Williams has previously held the positions of Chief Executive Alfred Health, Chief Executive Austin Health, Director in the Department of Human Services (Victorian Government) and other senior management positions in the public and private sectors.

Professor Anne Kelso AO is CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

With the exception of the CEO of the NHMRC, members are appointed for a period of up to five years.