Building world-class national research infrastructure

What is the initiative?

The NISA also includes a ten year, $2.3 billion investment in building "cutting edge national research infrastructure". Australia's research infrastructure requirements will be mapped in 2016, and financial commitments locked in order to provide funding certainty and ensure Australia retains its leadership position in areas including nanofabrication, food production, health, cyber security and sustainability.

Research infrastructure funding will comprise:

  • A$1.5 billion for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), which focuses on practical collaboration between researchers, government and industry personnel across sectors including environment, health and resources;  
  • A$520 million for the Australian Synchrotron, a technology that analyses the structure of materials and has applications across a wide variety of sectors including energy, manufacturing, food and biosecurity; and  
  • A$294 million for the Square Kilometre Array, the world's largest and most advanced radio telescope.

Impact

Certainty of funding for national research infrastructure will reduce the risk of existing Australian research capabilities, in the form of both infrastructure and leading research personnel, shifting offshore to jurisdictions where greater funding opportunities might otherwise exist. This will help Australia to retain its leadership position in relevant research fields and maximise returns from investments to date, and, just as importantly, maximise Australia's potential to continue its progress and stretch its leadership position. This, in combination with industry collaboration through initiatives such as NCRIS, will drive both the commercialisation of breakthrough research outcomes, and opportunities for private sector participation in these vital innovation activities.

CSIRO Innovation Fund

What is the initiative?

The NISA includes the CSIRO Innovation Fund, which will support the commercialisation of outputs from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and other Australian research organisations and universities.

The CSIRO Innovation Fund will comprise:

  1. a A$200 million early stage innovation fund, built on public funding and supplemented by capital from the private sector; and
  2. a A$20 million expansion in the current CSIRO accelerator programme to also cover other publicly funding research organisations in commercialising the products of their work. 

Impact

As such, the CSIRO Innovation Fund will enable the institutions that lead scientific and academic research to bring the products of that work to market, including through spin-off private companies. The Fund will therefore present a valuable resource to finance the vital but difficult transition from research to commercial deployment at scale. The private capital component of the early stage innovation fund will also give private sector investors the opportunity to contribute to, and share in the commercial benefits of, Australian innovation research breakthroughs.

Energy, including renewable energy, is an example of a sector that stands to benefit significantly from the CSIRO Innovation Fund. The CSIRO currently leads Australian research into disruptive energy technologies including solar power (photovoltaics and thermal), wave power, energy storage and smart grids, among others. Additional public and private funding for energy research will help accelerate the development and commercialisation of these technologies, and advance renewable energy and energy storage as an alternative to conventional fossil-fuel fired generation. The advent of new energy technologies will also provide a basis for the evolution of innovative business models through which to deploy them, driving both continuous and disruptive innovation and growth across the Australian energy sector.

Biomedical Translation Fund

What is the initiative?

The NISA also outlines the government's proposal for Biomedical Translation Fund (Bio Fund). The Bio Fund is an independent body, established by the government to invest in promising biomedical discoveries and then assist in their commercialisation.  The government will initiate a competitive process to select fund managers who will source at least another $250 million from the private sector to invest in the Bio Fund. 

The Bio Fund follows a recommendation of the government's McKeon Review.  Further, a Commonwealth body for the Bio Fund will be established in 2016, funded by reducing the capital contributions to the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) from 2015 until mid 2017 and allowing investments in biomedical businesses to commence. The Bio Fund essentially ensures that public and private investment is available for medical innovation earlier than it would have been from the MRFF.

Impact

As a world leader in health and medical research, Australia needs to overcome significant challenges associated with commercialising biomedical research. Greater public and private investment in biomedical discoveries and their commercialisation means more ground-breaking medical discoveries and better health outcomes for Australians.  However, private sector investment must be stimulated to entice their participation and encourage shrewd investors to wait out risk-filled gap between early and late stage biomedical research. Because private investors in biomedical are investing for the long-run (in large amounts), available funding is highly competitive. The commercial deployment of medical product requires a lengthy innovation process, clinical trials as well as marketing and regulatory approvals.    

Until now, there has been a gap in time, often referred to as the 'valley of death', between when medical research is done and when the medical product is ready to be used by doctors and hospitals. We are likely to see increased participation by the private sector in healthcare (both select funds and other funds) meaning an up-tick in investments into biomedical businesses.