Big pharma wants to invest more in Australian biotech says Greg Hunt
Big US pharmaceuticals companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, AbbVie and Eli Lilly want to invest more in Australia as a result of the Turnbull government’s efforts to stimulate the medical tech and biotech sectors, Health Minister Greg Hunt has said.
Mr Hunt said the increased interest was the result of the government’s cumulative efforts over several years to turn more of Australia’s world-leading medical and pharmaceuticals research into commercial products, starting with the establishment of the $20 billion Medical Research Future fund in the 2014 budget.
The 2018-19 budget’s change to the research and development tax incentive to reward greater R&D “intensity” – spend as a share of sales – and carve out clinical trials from new payment caps had added to Big Pharma’s interest, as had the $1.3 billion medical industry growth plan which included $248 million to expand clinical trials.
The next step was to streamline state approvals for clinical trials and offer a one-stop shop or single point of entry, possibly through MTPConnect, the medical technology growth centre, but with a new name that could be more easily understood overseas.
“We are likely to see a significant increase in clinical trials and the health and jobs outcomes that come with that, but also significant investment in Australian biotech firms. They are looking at Australia as the next destination in the developed world, the emerging first-world opportunity,” Mr Hunt said.
Clinical trials and investment
As a result of the latest changes, including accelerating enrolments in the My Health Record national e-health record – as well as Australia’s underlying advantages in science and health system outcomes, and its highly regarded Therapeutic Goods Administration and legal system – companies such as J&J, AbbVIE and Eli Lilly were looking at increasing their investments in Australian ideas, “molecules” and medicines.
“They are very very interested. A lot of them are looking not just at clinical trials – that’s a $1 billion business at the moment but it could be worth a whole lot more,” Mr Hunt said.
As well, Australian patients would get earlier access to new medicines than would otherwise be the case, he said. Mr Hunt was speaking from Boston in the US where he attended BIO 18, a top global biotech and medical conference.
He said the Medical Research Future Fund – which has grown to $6.7 billion, a third of its target – had had “a massive impact” because pharma companies saw it as a “permanent endowment” as opposed to other policies that come and go.
The prospect of having the majority of Australians enrolled in My Health Record by the end of the year was also hugely important to attracting more clinical trials to Australia, he said.
Speed up TGA
Mr Hunt said the TGA was respected for the quality of its approvals “which stand around the world” but the government was working to speed up clinical trials to make Australia “fastest to market in the developed world”.
CSL and Cochlear, Australia’s most successful global biotech and medical technology companies, said in a submission to a federal inquiry into obstacles to investment that the TGA was too slow to approve some products despite efforts to speed things up.
Mr Hunt said his goal was to speed things up “faster than is currently the case”. He had drawn up a memorandum of understanding for a “whole of Cochlear” approach with the hearing implant company’s chief executive Dig Howitt, and the next step in expediting Australian approvals would be to convene a round table of medical technology and biotech companies.
CSL welcomed the government’s presence at BIO 18. Andrea Douglas, vice president R&D strategy and external affairs, said: “It’s great that the Australian government has such a strong presence at the conference this year as it is an excellent opportunity to showcase our country’s commitment to the translation of early science to new medicines.”