How should the Federal Government prioritise medical research?

Published at Sep 7, 2016, in Features

Eighty-seven per cent of Australians support the Federal Government’s investment in the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

That is the verdict of a Roy Morgan Research poll of 1,040 people conducted on behalf of Research Australia, which also shows 78 per cent of Australians believe the MRFF will lead to better health outcomes.

The Medical Research Future Fund will reach capacity in the next decade and deliver about $1 billion a year for new therapies, treatments, drugs and devices with direct benefits to Australians.

“It is clear there is significant support for the Medical Research Future Fund and Australians want to see it become a reality,” said CEO of Research Australia, Nadia Levin.

“The MRFF will make an enormous difference to the health of Australians and the health of our economy, and people realise that and the contribution of medical research.

“The community recognises medical research is paramount to improving health outcomes and want to see medical breakthroughs brought from the laboratory into hospitals and medical clinics.

“They see stories about potential medical breakthroughs and new hope on their TVs – and they want to then see that reflected in their hospitals and doctor’s surgeries as soon as possible.

“The MRFF is a key to bridging this gap, providing new therapies, treatments, drugs and devices that will directly benefit Australians.”

The question is: how do you prioritise which treatments are deserving of funding and how much should they receive?

Health Minister Susan Ley announced the MRFF back in April this year. It is led by Professor Ian Frazer, one of Australia’s most innovative and successful researchers who developed the highly successful human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.

It would seem that funding is in the hands of the right man.

However as The Conversation editorialised earlier this year: “Prioritising a health condition is tempting for governments. No-one would argue against the strongest possible worldwide research effort on any area of ill health, whether it’s to defeat, say, dementia, breast cancer or diabetes.

“But it is a poor way to get the most benefit for Australia. Even devoting all of the Australian MRFF to a single disease would represent only a tiny increase in the worldwide research effort (perhaps by 1-2%). This is unlikely to make much difference, no matter how large the burden of the disease on individuals and societies.”

Even back in August 2015, there were concerns about how the funds would be allocated.

Michael Edwards of the ABC’s AM program reported, “Doctors are welcoming the establishment of Australia’s medical research fund but concerns persist about how the grants will be allocated.”

However, Edwards went on to report that according to the government the multi-billion-dollar-program will strengthen Australia’s standing as a global leader in research.

Which is a benefit in itself.

Another positive of the MRFF, despite Labor concerns the grant is open to political interference, is the amount of money being allocated per year.

At one billion dollars every year, medical research should receive a significant boost.

It is hoped that research being done in the small cap space will benefit as much as the large research companies and big pharma and that companies such as Dimerix, Actinogen Medical, Noxopharm, Cellmid, MGC Pharma, MMJ Phytotech and Race Oncology, which are all doing important work in the spheres of cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and Alzeimer’s Disease, could potentially benefit.

The MRFF will be working closely with the government on policy settings and projects over the coming weeks and months.

Highlights of the poll include:

  • 87% of Australians support the MRFF and 78% believe research funded by the MRFF will lead to better health.
  • 88% of Australians believe healthcare is the area where scientific research is most important.
  • Health and medical research is ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ important to making discoveries about human health and disease (85%), and turning discoveries into new drugs and treatments (84%).
  • 88% of people rated ‘basing healthcare on the best and most recent research’ as key to improving the health system, compared to reducing waiting times in emergency departments (80%) and more doctors in regional areas (78%).

For a copy of the full poll: http://researchaustralia.org/reports/public-opinion-polling/

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