MRFF Update

MRFF Update

14th August, 2015

MRFF legislation passes Parliament!

As many of you are no doubt aware, on Wednesday the Senate passed the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) legislation (read AAMRI’s media release)! This is a huge win for the health and medical research sector, and the many people in the community who will benefit from the health advancements the fund will support. The MRFF Action Group has been a key campaign for AAMRI over the past year, involving countless meetings with all sides of politics, and bringing peak bodies and the sector together to advocate for this transformational fund.

Passing of the legislation was made possible by the Government’s commitment to the MRFF, and the productive negotiations between the Australian Greens and Government to ensure the MRFF Bill incorporated sector feedback on how the MRFF should operate. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the additional amendments to the Bill that were introduced by the Senate. This paves the way for the MRFF to be established and delivering its first tranche of $10 million in funding for medical research and innovation in 2015-16, followed by a further $400 million over the next three years.

Many people were involved in the MRFF Action Group campaign, but we would particularly like to acknowledge the late Alastair Lucas AO (former Chair, Burnet Institute), Peter Scott (Chair, Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute), Matthew Grounds (Chair, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute), Ian Smith (Board member, Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute), and of course Brendan Crabb and Doug Hilton (previous and current AAMRI President). We would especially like to highlight the tireless efforts and pivotal role of Ian Smith throughout the entire campaign.

We’d also like to thank all of you who voiced your support for the MRFF in the past year. Whether it was a letter to a Senator, a tweet, a media release, or a submission to the Senate Inquiry, collectively you have helped make the MRFF a reality! It was rewarding to hear so many MPs and Senators – particularly cross-bench Senators – raise the important research of specific medical research institutes during the MRFF Bill’s debate. This is a testament to the fantastic efforts of medical research institutes and their staff and students in engaging Parliamentarians and the wider community in the importance of health and medical research and the MRFF.

We will need to keep these advocacy efforts up in years to come to ensure that the MRFF reaches $20 billion by 2020, as committed by the Government. (The MRFF Bill does not specify the size of the fund, but does ensure that all funds that are put into the MRFF are protected in perpetuity.)

How will the MRFF work?
The MRFF is projected to build in size over the next five years, starting with $3.4 billion in 2015-16 from uncommitted funds from the Health and Hospitals Fund and budget savings made over the past year. The fund is expected to reach $20 billion by 2020. As an endowment fund, this capital will be protected in perpetuity, and earnings from investing this capital will be allocated to health and medical research and medical innovation.

The MRFF is expected to deliver $10 million in 2015-16, and around $400 million over the following three years, building to around $1 billion per annum by 2020. This funding will be in addition to National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding through the Medical Research Endowment Account, which is projected to be around $0.9 billion per annum by 2020.

The MRFF will be broader in its remit than current NHMRC grant programs, funding medical innovation (i.e. commercialisation and translation of research, and the application of research findings in health settings), in addition to health and medical research. It is likely that some, but not all, MRFF disbursements will be allocated by the NHMRC through peer-reviewed processes. There is potential for financial assistance from the MRFF to also be provided directly to government agencies (e.g. CSIRO), state/territory governments (e.g. hospitals or health departments to help embed research in the health system), as well as businesses (e.g. to support medical research commercialisation activities).

Governance and accountability
The MRFF Bill underwent a range of amendments in the House of Representatives (details here and here), and in the Senate (see here) in response to sector feedback and the Senate Inquiry report. These amendments improve governance and accountability with respect to MRFF disbursements, and include:

  • The formation of an Australian Medical Research Advisory Board (including the NHMRC CEO and up to seven other skills-based representatives), responsible for preparing a medical research and innovation strategy (every 5 years) and priorities (every 2 years) to guide the allocation of financial assistance and grants from the MRFF;
  • The requirement that the Advisory Board consults organisations with expertise in medical research/innovation and organisations that represent health consumers/patients;
  • The requirement that the Health Minister takes into account the Advisory Board’s priorities in the allocation of financial assistance from the MRFF, and provides information on the internet on all financial assistance provided, including how much and to whom funding was provided;
  • The requirement that the Health Minister provides a report to Parliament every two years on the financial assistance provided from the MRFF, including how this was consistent with the Advisory Board’s priorities, and information on other Government funding for medical research and innovation (e.g. NHMRC funding levels);
  • A review of the MRFF by 2023, which must consider, among other things, whether financial assistance provided from the MRFF complemented and enhanced other Government funding for medical research and innovation, including through the NHMRC, and increased the total amount of Government funding for medical research and innovation; and
  • Allowing the Health Minister to delegate his/her powers to the CEO of the NHMRC, or other employees of the NHMRC or Department of Health.

What next?
AAMRI will keep you updated on MRFF developments. We hope to hear soon who will be on the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, and how the first $10 million tranche of MRFF funding will be allocated.