Biotechs to government: stop mucking with R&D

Published at Jun 1, 2016, in Features

Over 80% of biotech leaders are concerned about a current review of R&D policy, and are suspicious of the government’s position on the issue.

Australian biotech body AusBiotech released its industry position survey yesterday, which canvassed the thoughts of 44 companies in the sector along with another 60 companies through roundtable discussions.

It found that of 80% of respondents said they were “concerned” about a current review of R&D arrangements being led by Australia’s chair of innovation Bill Ferris, chief scientist Alan Finkel, and secretary to the Treasury John Fraser.

While 80% of respondents were worried about the changes, over 90% said stability on the issue was crucial as capital remains uncomfortably tight for companies in the sector.

“The constant reviews, threats and tweaks to industry support programs are unsettling biotechnology developers, who have long development cycles – and undermine business confidence,” AusBiotech said in its findings.

“The negative impact that uncertainty has on product development/innovation companies is destabilising and program changes cause one of the greatest costs, in practical terms.”

One CEO surveyed even went as far as to say they were “genuinely fearful” over the government’s intentions in the space.

While the R&D review is ongoing, the government has already imposed an expenditure claim threshold of $100 million on R&D funding – but it has also attempted to cut claims by 1.5%, something which it has not yet been successful in doing.

READ: Reading the biotech tea leaves part one

READ: Reading the biotech tea leaves part two

In particular, the companies surveyed said one suggestion that R&D could be linked with greater collaboration with the academic sector.

Biotech leaders suggested that any sort of formal linking could create “phantom partnerships”.

“...if industry is incentivised to work with a public sector partner and is motivated primarily by the incentive, phantom partnerships will eventuate,” AusBiotech wrote in its findings.

“It will also make the R&D Tax Incentive more complex and increase compliance costs.”

Despite ongoing uncertainty about R&D though, the sector cautiously welcomed a greater focus on innovation from the government – and also reported that the R&D spend of 41 respondents was a aggregated $2.5 billion in 2015.

This is up from $889 million from 46 companies in the previous year.

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