Celebrating 20 years of discovery and success in medical research

Celebrating 20 years of discovery and success in medical research

28th October, 2013

Australia’s peak body representing Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) celebrates 20 years of success and discovery at its Annual Convention in Canberra today.

“Since AAMRI’s inception in 1993, our members have contributed to countless health and medical research success stories. They have improved lives, and helped make Australia a healthier and more prosperous country,” said Professor Brendan Crabb, AAMRI President.

Professor Crabb said that the past 20 years of health and medical research had been greatly impacted by the Federal Government-commissioned Wills Review in 1998, and that its successor, the recently completed McKeon Review of health and medical research, had the potential to be an equally critical turning point for the sector.

“The Wills Review recommendations helped drive policy reform by the Federal Government for a more productive medical research sector,” said Professor Crabb. “For example, Australia now produces 3 per cent of the OECD’s health and medical research output, up from 2.5 per cent prior to the reforms arising from the Wills Review.”

Also since the Wills Review, the biotech industry has grown by 17 per cent per annum, from 350 biotech companies in 1998 to over 1,000 in 2013, with a market capitalisation of over $32 billion. Medicinal and pharmaceutical products are now Australia’s largest manufacturing export sector. During the 10-year period from 1998, advances in healthcare also vastly improved the quality of life of Australians, with the average number of years lived disability free increasing from 60 years to 63 years.

“This success is an indication of the great talent and infrastructure we have in Australia,” said Professor Crabb. “Our researchers are top class; but if we want this success to continue to thrive and to contribute to a truly knowledge-intensive economy, we need a policy and funding environment that allows researchers to get on with what they do best.”

“The McKeon Review provides a momentous opportunity for the new Federal Government to make its mark on healthcare in Australia for the decades ahead. Not only does this review chart a course for new health solutions, it focuses hard on how research can be used to reduce the Government’s burgeoning health expenditure, predicted to grow from 4 to 7 per cent of GDP by 2050.”

“There’s no doubt it’s an exciting time for health and medical research in Australia, with huge technological advances over the last 20 years and increasing international collaboration promising to find solutions to major remaining and emerging health problems. Dementia, heart disease, cancer and a host of other acute and chronic diseases will be a major focus of this research. With the continued support of Australians at the community, government, non-profit and corporate levels, our health and medical researchers will continue to provide hope, health and prosperity for the next 20 years.”


About the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)

AAMRI was established in 1993 by Australia’s medical research institutes to achieve policy settings that drive positive medical research outcomes for Australia. Today it represents 41 medical research institutes throughout Australia, representing over 10,000 staff and students.

AAMRI’s 2013 Annual Convention is being held in Canberra on 28-29 October 2013. AAMRI is celebrating 20 years of success of Australia’s medical research institutes at its Annual Dinner at Parliament House on 28 October 2013.


A 20-year snapshot of Australian medical research success stories

Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA)

  • A decade-long international clinical trial undertaken in March 2013 doubled the survival rate from 35 per cent to 70 per cent for high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Lions Eye Institute

  • Research and development of AlphaCorTM, the world’s first soft artificial cornea.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

  • A world-first technique was developed by scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital, doubling the time a donor heart can exist outside the recipient.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

  • Researchers found that infants given egg after 12 months of age were up to five times more likely to develop an egg allergy as they grew older than babies given egg at four to six months of age.

Brien Holden Vision Institute

  • Brien Holden Vision Institute researchers designed and conducted research that lead to the development of silicone hydrogel polymer, released by CIBA VISION as the Focus® Night & Day contact lens in 1999. This new class material accounts for more than 50% of the soft contact lens market in the US.

Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA)

  • NeuRA’s Falls Clinic developed a “Falls Screening Kit”, which is used by aged care specialists worldwide in identifying people at risk of falls.

Centenary Institute

  • Researchers discovered the genetic basis and prevention of sudden death syndrome in young people.

The George Institute for Global Health

  • A landmark study showed that blood pressure lowering reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.

Hunter Medical Research Institute

  • A Hunter Medical Research Institute asthma management program has the potential to halve asthma attacks in pregnant women, the most common chronic medical disorder they experience.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

  • QIMR Berghofer scientists were important contributors to the development of the active ingredient in a solar keratoses (sun spot) gel now available on the US and Australian market.

Burnet Institute

  • After six years of development in the laboratory, the Burnet Institute’s innovative point-of-care (POC) CD4 test was officially launched at the AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington.

Menzies Research Institute Tasmania

  • Menzies’ research on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) recommended changes to infant sleeping positions, which attributed to the dramatic decline in SIDS deaths since 1991.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

  • In 2008, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s refined pathology techniques, advanced cancer imaging technologies and expertise to evaluate cellular responses resulted in the organisation being selected as the only site outside the United States to host first-in-human clinical trials of the first BRAF gene inhibitor, vemurafenib, to treat patients with advanced melanoma.

Menzies School of Health Research

  • The Menzies School of Health Research established Australia’s longest and largest study of Aboriginal people. In 1986 the Aboriginal Birth Cohort Study began with 686 babies to identify the risk factors contributing to chronic disease such as diabetes, heart and renal diseases at different life stages. It’s currently in its fourth wave of data collection.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

  • Researchers identified the hormones (CSFs) that control white blood cell development, helping more than 10 million cancer patients recover from chemotherapy, and revolutionising stem cell transplants.

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

  • The Florey has pioneered research into gene discovery in epilepsy and the work is actively changing clinical practice.

Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute

  • A world-first breakthrough in the treatment of high blood pressure has resulted in a paradigm shift in the management of this condition. Research by Professors Murray Esler and Markus Schlaich fed to the development of a catheter-based clinical treatment for severe and resistant high blood pressure.


Australian Medical Research – The Facts

  • Every dollar invested in Australian health and medical research returns on average $2.17 in health benefits.[1]
  • Investment in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) between 2000 and 2010 is projected to have saved $966 million in costs to the health system, with a further $6 billion in gains linked to increased wellbeing.[2]
  • Approximately 23,000 people are employed in Australian health and medical research,[3] and the pharmaceutical industry employs over 13,000 Australians.[4]
  • Australia’s pharmaceutical industry is the nation’s most valuable high technology export industry, with annual exports worth $4 billion in 2012-13.[5]
  • Annual turnover of the Australian medicines industry was $22.46 billion in 2010-11, and medicines manufacturing received an estimated $9.7 billion in sales and service income.[6]
  • Australia has produced 15 Nobel Laureates, the highest number per head of population of any country in the world. Of these, seven have been in ‘physiology or medicine’.[7]
  • Over the decade from 2001 to 2010, Australia ranked sixth internationally in terms of citations per publication (a measure of impact of research).[8]
  • The number of researchers supported by NHMRC Schemes has increased from 3,727 in 2003 to 8,513 in 2010 (growth of 13% p.a. over the last 7 years).[9]
  • The Federal Government’s health expenditure is predicted to grow from 4 per cent to 7 per cent of GDP by 2050.[10]
  • Australia produces 3 per cent of the OECD’s health and medical research output (up from 2.5 per cent at the time of the Wills Review) from just 1.6 per cent of OECD economic output.[11]
  • The biotech industry has grown by 17 per cent per annum, from 350 biotech companies in 1998 to over 1,000 in 2013, with a market capitalisation of over $32 billion.[12]
  • Medicinal & pharmaceutical products are Australia’s largest manufacturing export sector.[13]
  • From 1998 to 2009, the average number of years lived disability free increased from 60 to 63 years.[14]

[1] Australian Society for Medical Research – Exceptional Returns: The Value of Investing in Health R&D in Australia II, Access Economics study 2008.

[2] Australian Society for Medical Research – Exceptional Returns: The Value of Investing in Health R&D in Australia II, Access Economics study 2008.

[8] Thomson Reuters; from McKeon Review, p 29

[9] NHMRC Funding Facts Book 2011, 2012; from McKeon Reviewp 131

[10] Treasury Report – Australia to 2050: future challenges, Jan 2010

[12] Bloomberg 2013; from McKeon Review, p 13

[13] Australian Bureau of Statistics; from McKeon Review, p 13

[14] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Changes in life expectancy and disability in Australia 1998 to 2009, Bulletin III, November 2012, p 12