Bringing researchers and clinicians closer to improve health outcomes for patients

Bringing researchers and clinicians closer to improve health outcomes for patients

2nd August, 2017

By Professor Tony Cunningham AO – AAMRI President

This article was first published in Vicdoc, the magazine of the Victorian AMA. Since it’s publication the Government has invested a further $2.2 billion, taking the total investment in the MRFF to $6.8 billion.

There is a great deal of excitement within the medical research community as the Government’s promise to establish a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) is now starting to take shape.

Already around $4.5 billion has been invested into the fund, and it’s set to reach its $20 billion target by 2020-21. Eventually round $1 billion a year will be available to invest in medical research, effectively doubling the Commonwealth’s annual investment in medical research.

While this is indeed exciting news for our researchers, I think it is truly something that the whole healthcare community can get excited about. This fund isn’t going to be pouring more money into more of the same. Instead there will be a shift away from focusing on high quality scientific papers, and towards taking our research and using it to support better patient outcomes.

Despite some outstanding exceptions, our track record in Australia for turning our high quality research into new drugs, medical devices, and improved health outcomes has been rather underwhelming. For too long in Australia we have allowed the two to drift away from each other, in large part because of funding pressures on both sides. The goal for the new MRFF is to turn this around.

This will be achieved by providing the right resources to turn cutting edge research discoveries into new treatments, diagnostics and preventative and cost-saving strategies. This will be achieved through a renewed funding focus on bringing our researchers, clinicians, other healthcare providers, and patients together. Not only will this allow a more rapid transition of new discoveries into the health system, it will also bring our researchers closer to the healthcare system, allowing them to better understand the research needs of our clinicians and patients.

But how could MRFF schemes provide that missing link between research and real-world outcomes for patients? Medical research is currently funded through grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). While Australia generates wonderfully high calibre results from NHMRC funded research, we have been criticised for not being as good as other OECD countries in turning its discoveries into improved health and economic outcomes. Part of the problem is that we lack ways to break down silos and get researchers talking to clinicians, health services and patients about their most immediate and highest priority healthcare needs. Using the MRFF to open these lines of communication, researchers could respond quickly to health needs through collaborative approaches, cross-disciplinary research and through new clinical trials.

Already the MRFF is taking real action in this area, backed up by funding. Within this year’s $66 million of funding announcements there has been new financing announced for clinician researcher fellowships, increased funding for clinical trials networks and for boosting preventative health research. But this is just a start. The amount of MRFF funding will increase yearly until it reaches nearly 10 times this year’s budget by 2021 ($643M) so there is considerable room for the MRFF to fund many other schemes to push more research into the clinic to benefit the Australian public.

One of the most exciting developments has been the establishment and new funding for the Australian Health and Research Translation Centres (AHRTCs), and Centres for Innovation in Regional Health (CIRH). These are partnerships of research and health services and provide one way to streamline communication across the different players in research and the health system. AHRTCs and CIRHs facilitate major health projects such as complex care in maternal and child health, monitoring and prevention of heart and stroke in indigenous Australians and increasing capacity to respond to emerging infectious diseases. There are also commercial schemes which can be linked with the MRFF, the Biomedical Translation Fund and the Biotech Horizons initiative, that help to get medical research innovations across the funding gaps and reach the marketplace, and therefore the clinic, a lot faster.

Few people would disagree that researchers, healthcare providers and the broader community want Australia to have the best health system in the world. We can only achieve this by working together, alongside each other. For those clinicians interested in using research to improve patient outcomes, I would encourage them to take an interest in the MRFF, support its capitalisation to the full $20 billion, and to get involved in their local AHRTC or CIRH. The MRFF is an opportunity to link two of Australia’s best assets, the medical research community and the health system, to generate exceptional healthcare outcomes. Given the right tools, this opportunity must not be missed.