Damien Bates, chief scientific officer and the head of translational medicine at BioCurate, discusses the potential of Australia’s biomedical research sector and how the country can improve its track record in the commercialisation of early-stage research. BioCurate was jointly formed by the University of Melbourne and Monash University with the support of the Victorian Government in 2016. Its a partner for the federal government's $22.3 million Biomedical Translation Bridge program that aims to support the translation of new biopharmaceuticals and medical technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted Australia’s biomedical research sector. The country’s academic research output is one of the highest in the world, clearly demonstrating that we have the infrastructure and the talent to compete on the global stage.
However, for the benefits of this research to be fully realised we must improve our track record in commercialisation.
Unfortunately, we rank relatively poorly in bringing new treatments to market.
To address this, we must foster better connections between academia and industry, to accelerate the realisation of our potential, the translation of our discoveries, and the pathway to achieving impact.
In order to do so efficiently and effectively, there are aspects of Australia’s execution of the commercialisation pathway that need to be improved. To better improve the lives of patients, we need to communicate and collaborate better.
Commercialisation is a relay sport - one that takes place over many years and requires billions of dollars.
Every biomedical researcher, from young student to a seasoned veteran, is familiar with the drug development pipeline. Most will understand the reality that most potential novel therapeutics will never make it to the clinic.
Analysis by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development found that only 11.8 per cent of drugs tested in phase 1 clinical trials will be approved for human use. Nonetheless, the capitalised cost per approved new drug continues to increase (Di Masi et al. (2016) Journal of Health Economics, 47:20-33).
Australia has exceptional research capabilities with some of the most prominent and respected research institutions in the world. But for the most part, our country does not realise the full potential of these capabilities in the form of commercially successful drugs and treatments.
Precarious funding models, lack of intellectual property protection, naïve relationships with big pharma, and absence of incentives to foster entrepreneurship over publications are all contributory to Australia’s poor track record in this space.
BioCurate was established to help overcome some of the obstacles and aid researchers in the translation and commercialisation process in Australia - to keep researchers focused on society’s ultimate end goal, which is to bring new medicines to market that positively impact on people’s lives.
A fundamental factor in commercialisation is collaboration.
Commercialisation is a team sport - from the biologist to the medicinal chemist to the intellectual property lawyer to the regulatory affairs expert to the business specialist, assembling the right team is critical.
For some, collaboration can feel like a loss of ownership, but it is important to remember that no one can possess all the expertise and skills to navigate the incredibly complex drug development pipeline alone.
One of the shortfalls in Australia’s innovation ecosystem is the limited opportunities to form these multi-disciplinary teams.
Notably, compared to other countries that are highly successful in translating early discoveries, there is a dearth of networking involving business schools who can bring commercial expertise to supplement the researchers’ scientific capabilities.
Without this input we risk producing 'technologies in search of a problem'.
Moreover, the key ingredient to successful commercialisation lies in the team. This fact has been long appreciated by venture capital, and Australia is likely to improve its track record in commercialisation by creating opportunities for highly motivated, diverse teams to form and drive this research forward.
Effective communication underlies the formation and strengthening of collaborations between academia and industry.
This constitutes education, honest feedback and possibly a few difficult conversations to ensure a common understanding.
Are the data robust? Are the right controls being used? Does this potential novel therapeutic truly address an unmet medical need? What is the value proposition? What is the size of the addressable market? While these questions can be confronting, they are essential due diligence.
Considering the time, effort and funding required to take a novel therapeutic through from discovery to market, collaborators and entrepreneurs want to ensure their investment is built on sound data.
Within a multidisciplinary team, open two-way conversation can build trust, create new ways of working and help the exchange of ideas. With different people from different backgrounds contributing and driving development during certain stages, innovative solutions can arise.
Through honest communication, individuals, regardless of whether they are biologists or patent attorneys, can gain new experiences, new knowledge and new wisdom to help them navigate the drug development pipeline a second, third or fourth time.
Australia has a talented and innovative research community. With an emphasis on the three C’s - commercialisation, collaboration and communication, the promise of Australia’s outstanding research has an increased potential to be realised by bringing new products to market to improve people’s lives.