In the face of disruption and funding scrutiny, Monash University Vice Chancellor and Universities Australia Chair, Professor Margaret Gardner is seeking to re-direct the spotlight to the areas in which university innovation strategy is delivering success.
As the keynote speaker at the 2017 AFR Higher Education Summit in September, Gardner questioned the government’s proposed funding cuts and implored policy makers to examine where university innovation strategy is leading instead of examining ways to improve, bemoaning the present and ignoring the past.
“Reform is a grand word, and there’s always room to challenge the way universities are shaped and operated,” said Gardner. “But good strategy should begin by understanding what we do well.”
Three key strengths of universities as outlined by Professor Gardner
Australian universities are ranked at number 3 over in the world, behind the USA at number one and the UK at number two. Half of all Australian universities are in the top 400, an enviable position for any sector of national endeavour.
International demand for education is driven by reputation and the top 100 rankings. In 2016, higher education was a $22 billion export industry with 350,000 international students choosing Australian universities for their studies. It’s reported that international students spend double in the wider economy than they do in fees so the flow on effect can be felt broadly.
The social and economic benefits of education lead to higher skilled workforce with more resilience. Education supports a nation’s economic development and leads to more people leading healthy lives. Australian levels of attainment are high.
Gardner rejects “…a discussion of presumed inefficiencies instead of acknowledgement of success” as the optimum starting point, but agrees that to survive and succeed, universities must take risks and be entrepreneurial.
“In universities I see graduates with big aspirations, researchers with grand designs,” Gardner continued. “The shaping of this debate is in our hands.” – Karen Taylor-Brown
Australia’s future health and economy is a vibrant, interactive ecosystem with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at its core. STEM is central – and essential – to Australia’s ongoing success in the next 50 years. Australia is considered an incredible place to do cutting-edge research, pursue blue-sky ideas and commercialise innovative products. Pioneering discoveries fuel the innovation process. Students cannot wait to enrol in science and maths. Policies are developed using peer-reviewed evidence and broad consultation. Aspirational goals are backed by practical solutions and half of our STEM leaders are women – it’s the norm.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
To excel in science and innovation, however, Australia needs a major culture shift. We can all ‘talk the talk’, but as OECD figures demonstrate, we cannot ‘walk the walk’. Australia rates lowest compared to other OECD countries when it comes to business-research collaborations – not just large businesses, but small to medium-sized enterprises as well.
Academia blames industry. Industry blames academia. Everyone blames the government. It’s time to turn the pointing finger into a welcoming handshake and engage across sectors to actually make innovation happen.
Literally thousands of researchers in this country want to see our academic and industry leaders reach across the divide and make change happen. With every decision made, their future is impacted.
Paradigm-shifting science and innovation takes time and requires a diverse workforce of highly-skilled researchers and professionals that specialise in these fields.
The lack of a skilled workforce and poor collaboration are significant barriers to innovation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the industry engagement and impact assessment aims to incentivise greater collaboration between industry and academia by examining how universities are translating their research into social and economic benefits.
Australian academic institutions have begun to break down silos within their own research organisations with some success. In medical research for example, the breadth and scale of interdisciplinary collaborative projects has expanded exponentially – spanning international borders, requiring a range of skills and expertise, terabytes of data, and years of research.
Research teams have become small companies with synergistic subsidiaries – diagnostic, basic, translational and clinical teams – working toward a common goal.
Yet their engagement with industry is low. Industry struggles to navigate the ever-changing complex leadership structures in higher education and research. When you speak one-on-one with researchers and industry leaders, however, they seem almost desperate to cross the divide and connect! It’s a detrimental dichotomy.
How can we harness the full potential of our research workforce?
We can energise innovation by fostering a culture that values basic research as well as translation of discoveries to product, practice and policy. A culture that opens the ivory tower and is not so sceptical of industry-academia engagement. That responds to failure with resilience and determination rather than deflating, harsh judgement. That sees the potential of our young researchers.
We need to lose the tall poppy syndrome and openly celebrate the success and achievement of others. We must hold ourselves to higher standards and in particular, women must be equally recognised and rewarded for their leadership.
As a nation, we must ensure we are prepared and resourced for the challenges ahead. Not only do we need the best equipment and technologies, but we also need a readily adaptable workforce that is highly-skilled to address these issues.
To facilitate a culture shift and increase engagement with business and industry, we need to provide researchers the skills and know-how, as well as opportunities to hone these skills. Young researchers are ready to engage and hungry to learn; and they must be encouraged to do so without penalty.
They then need to be connected with industry leaders to identify the qualities and expertise they need to strengthen, and to extend their network.
We can change this now. The solution is not expensive. It is simply about letting down our guard and providing real opportunities to meet, to connect, to network, to exchange ideas and expertise – and to share that welcoming handshake.
Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.
What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.
Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.
The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.
The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.
Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.
The community of Australian life science innovators are clever, focused and driven. Yet many fail to achieve their commercial goals. Sometimes this because of the science – which is not yet sufficiently developed for the commercial path.
Sometimes it is inexperienced management or governance. But usually, the key barrier is access to capital. Australia has talent and good ideas aplenty, but our small economy and lack of risk capital produces challenges not seen in bigger economies, like the USA. “Yes,” I hear you saying.
What about other smaller nations? It is true that some Scandinavian countries and Israel perform very well. But when the culture, government structures, location and many other factors are taken into account, the comparisons with Australia – although very useful– are not equivalent.
In order to optimise our performance and deliver both social and economic benefits, the current conversation at the Federal level is well directed. We need an approach that is system-oriented; that considers the international exemplars and how they can be applied in the Australian context, and pays attention to capital access.
“The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude.”
When the Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF) was announced as part of the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Sciences Agenda (NISA) in December 2015, it was welcomed by AusBiotech as a game-changing package that will transform Australia’s ability to commercialise.
The biotechnology and medical technology sectors are particularly excited by the ability of the program’s investment to be a multiplier and make available much-needed capital to translate our research from universities and medical research institutes into products and services – including medical therapies and cures, medical devices, digital heath solutions, diagnostics and vaccines.
Fund manager, GBS Ventures, which specialises in the life sciences has invested $400 million in 30 companies in recent years and reports it has attracted $5 in private money for every $1 of public money invested.
So far as this can be extrapolated to the new fund, the BTF could be the catalyst for over $2.5 billion to flow into the sector.
The BTF is envisaged as a for-profit investment program of $250 million that is to be matched by an additional $250 million from private investors, so creating a $500 million capital pool available for commercialisation of biotech and medtech projects.
Funding would be engaged, inter alia, before and during clinical trials and product registration stages. The investments by the BTF and its private co-investors are likely to fall in the range of $5 million to $20 million per project.
This is great news for a cash-starved sector.
The strength of biotechnology for our economic future is clear, but to realise its vast potential will take radically new thinking and an entrepreneurial attitude. How we make and fund these new technologies by attracting capital is key.
AusBiotech is pleased to see the Government has been listening to calls for a focus on translation.
Australian life science companies attracted almost $2 billion in deals over the last 18 months, which illustrates that the sector is attractive to investors and demonstrates a good pool of quality technology, talent and opportunity that the BTF will now exploit. Finance from the BTF, along with the R&D Tax Incentive scheme is a powerful, one-two punch that will make a material difference to success in life sciences.
Featured image above from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report
Australians with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are working across the economy in many roles from wine-makers to financial analysts, according to a new report from The Office of the Chief Scientist.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says Australia’s STEM Workforce is the first comprehensive analysis of the STEM-qualified population and is a valuable resource for students, parents, teachers and policy makers. The report is based on data from the 2011 Census, the most recent comprehensive and detailed data set of this type of information. The report will serve as a benchmark for future studies.
“This report provides a wealth of information on where STEM qualifications – from both the university and the vocational education and training (VET) sectors – may take you, what jobs you may have and what salary you may earn,” Finkel says.
“Studying STEM opens up countless job options and this report shows that Australians are taking diverse career paths.”
The report investigates the workforce destinations of people with qualifications in STEM fields, looking at the demographics, industries, occupations and salaries that students studying for those qualifications can expect in the workforce.
The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates. Biological sciences and environmental studies graduates were evenly split between the genders. In the vocational education and training (VET) sector, only 9% of those with STEM qualifications were women.
Finkel says that even more worrying than the gender imbalance in some STEM fields, is the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields revealed in the report. These differences cannot be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.
The analysis also found that gaining a doctorate is a sound investment, with more STEM PhD graduates in the top income bracket than their Bachelor-qualified counterparts. However, these same STEM PhD holders are less likely to own their own business or work in the private sector.
Finkel says that preparing students for a variety of jobs and industries is vital to sustaining the future workforce.
“This report shows that STEM-qualified Australians are working across the economy. It is critical that qualifications at all levels prepare students for the breadth of roles and industries they might pursue.”
Click here to download the full Australia’s STEM Workforce report.
Click here to read Alan Finkel’s Foreword, or click here to read the section of the report that interests you.
Leveraging the knowledge of researchers from the CSIRO and five of Australia’s top universities, as well as experts in the field, the CRCLCL is heading up efforts to deliver a low carbon built environment in Australia. Its ambitious aim is to cut residential and commercial carbon emissions by 10 megatonnes by 2020.
“The CRCLCL is at the forefront of driving technological and social innovation in the built environment to reduce carbon emissions,” says Prasad.
“We’re looking to bring emissions down, and in the process we want to ensure global competitiveness for Australian industry by helping to develop the next generation of products, technologies, advanced manufacturing and consulting services,” says Prasad.
CRCLCL activities range from urban sustainable design and solar energy to software and community engagement.
“By working effectively with government, researchers and industry, we employ an ‘end-user’ driven approach to research that maximises uptake and utilisation,” says Prasad.
Climate change is affecting the Earth, through more frequent and intense weather events, such as heatwaves and rising sea levels, and is predicted to do so for generations to come. Changes brought on by anthropogenic climate change, from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are impacting natural ecosystems on land and at sea, and across all human settlements.
Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels – which have jumped by a third since the Industrial Revolution – will also have an effect on agriculture and the staple plant foods we consume and export, such as wheat.
Stressors on agribusiness, such as prolonged droughts and the spread of new pests and diseases, are exacerbated by climate change and need to be managed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Australia’s food production.
Increasing concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere significantly increase water efficiency in plants and stimulate plant growth, a process known as the “fertilisation effect”. This leads to more biomass and a higher crop yield; however, elevated carbon dioxide (eCO₂) could decrease the nutritional content of food.
“Understanding the mechanisms and responses of crops to eCO₂ allows us to focus crop breeding research on the best traits to take advantage of the eCO₂ effect,” says Dr Glenn Fitzgerald, a senior research scientist at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.
“The experiments are what we refer to as ‘fully replicated’ – repeated four times and statistically verified for accuracy and precision,” says Fitzgerald. “This allows us to compare our current growing conditions of 400 parts per million (ppm) CO₂ with eCO₂ conditions of 550 ppm – the atmospheric CO₂ concentration level anticipated for 2050.”
The experiments involve injecting CO₂ into the atmosphere around plants via a series of horizontal rings that are raised as the crops grow, and the process is computer-controlled to maintain a CO₂ concentration level of 550 ppm.
“We’re observing around a 25–30% increase in yields under eCO₂ conditions for wheat, field peas, canola and lentils in Australia,” says Fitzgerald.
Pests and disease
While higher CO₂ levels boost crop yields, there is also a link between eCO₂ and an increase in viruses that affect crop growth.
Spread by aphids, BYDV is a common plant virus that affects wheat, barley and oats, and causes yield losses of up to 50%.
“It’s a really underexplored area,” says Dr Jo Luck, director of research, education and training at the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre. “We know quite a lot about the effects of drought and increasing temperatures on crops, but we don’t know much about how the increase in temperature and eCO₂ will affect pests and diseases.
“There is a tension between higher yields from eCO₂ and the impacts on growth from pests and diseases. It’s important we consider this in research when we’re looking at food security.”
This increased yield is due to more efficient photosynthesis and because eCO₂ improves the plant’s water-use efficiency.
With atmospheric CO₂ levels rising, less water will be required to produce the same amount of grain. Fitzgerald estimates about a 30% increase in water efficiency for crops grown under eCO₂ conditions.
But nutritional content suffers. “In terms of grain quality, we see a decrease in protein concentration in cereal grains,” says Fitzgerald. The reduction is due to a decrease in the level of nitrogen (N2) in the grain, which occurs because the plant is less efficient at drawing N2 from the soil.
The same reduction in protein concentration is not observed in legumes, however, because of the action of rhizobia – soil bacteria in the roots of legumes that fix N2 and provide an alternative mechanism for making N2 available.
“We are seeing a 1–14% decrease in grain-protein concentration [for eCO₂ levels] and a decrease in bread quality,” says Fitzgerald.
“This is due to the reduction in protein and because changes in the protein composition affect qualities such as elasticity and loaf volume. There is also a decrease of 5–10% in micronutrients such as iron and zinc.”
There could also be health implications for Australians. As the protein content of grains diminishes, carbohydrate levels increase, leading to food with higher caloric content and less nutritional value, potentially exacerbating the current obesity epidemic.
The corollary from the work being undertaken by Fitzgerald is that in a future CO₂-enriched world, there will be more food but it will be less nutritious. “We see an increase in crop growth on one hand, but a reduction in crop quality on the other,” says Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald says more research into nitrogen-uptake mechanisms in plants is required in order to develop crops that, when grown in eCO₂ environments, can capitalise on increased plant growth while maintaining N2, and protein, levels.
For now, though, while an eCO₂ atmosphere may be good for plants, it might not be so good for us.
ANSTO’s Synroc technology locks up radioactive elements in ‘synthetic rock’ allowing waste, like naturally occurring minerals, to be kept safely in the environment for millions of years.
Synroc technology offers excellent chemical durability and minimises waste and disposal volumes, decreasing environmental risks and lowering emissions and secondary wastes.
ANSTO’s Synroc team is developing a waste treatment processing plant using Synroc technology for Australia’s molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) waste; Mo-99 is the parent nuclide for technetium-99m, the most widely used radioisotope in nuclear medicine. The plant will be the first of its kind, and will lead the world in managing nuclear wastes from Mo-99 production.
Dr Daniel Gregg, leader of the Synroc waste form engineering team at ANSTO, says the plant will demonstrate Australia’s commitment to providing technology solutions to the global nuclear community.
“We hope to partner with others and build several more plants around the world using Synroc technology,” he says.
Gregg says several countries are looking to build new Mo-99 production facilities, and regulators want assurances that facilities will be able to treat the resulting waste streams.
“With national regulators around the world putting more and more pressure on waste producers to deal with nuclear wastes, opportunities exist for Synroc as a leading option for nuclear waste treatment.” This places Synroc and Australia in an enviable position, adds Gregg.
“Synroc is a cost-effective, environmentally responsible option to treat and appropriately dispose of nuclear wastes without leaving a burden to future generations.”
In developing the plant, the Synroc team has designed process engineering technology and a fully integrated pilot plant that can treat large volumes of waste under a continuous process mode.
The team is also collaborating with national laboratories around the world to demonstrate strategies to treat radioactive waste for commercial benefit.
The focus is on waste streams – such as the growing stockpiles of long-lived nuclear waste – that are problematic for existing treatment methods. The real advantage, says Gregg, is Synroc’s ability to immobilise these problematic waste forms.
“Waste producers are required to immobilise nuclear wastes, and Synroc and Australia will be at the forefront of waste management technology.”
1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.
2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.
3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful.
4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.“
“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.
I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.“
“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.“
“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.
2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health.
3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”
– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland
Desselle is a programme coordinator for outreach for the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD) at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. She is looking for the next antibiotic in engaging academic chemists worldwide in an open-access compound screening program and setting up international partnerships. Desselle has eight years’ experience driving engagement strategies for medical research programs and facilities. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to drive transformational change and solutions to diagnose, track and treat infectious diseases.
Desselle is a board director for the Queensland-based Women in Technology peak industry body for women in science and technology careers, and for the Tech Girls Movement foundation, promoting positive role models to encourage and raise awareness of STEM careers for girls.
What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?
“I would say having a drive. It takes passion, tenacity, and a vision to lead successful research initiatives, and I believe having an articulate “why” is essential to feed them. Don’t we always go back to what drives us when celebrating successful outcomes and overcoming rejection and failures?”
What is one thing you would change to improve the gender balance in senior ranks of scientists?
“Ending the ‘manel’. I would ask the 32 Australian universities and research institutes who are part of the SAGE pilot, an initiative of the Australian Academy of Science and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering that addresses gender equity in the science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) sectors, to make the following pledge: striving to achieve gender balance in all conferences and panel discussions they are hosting and organising.”
What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?
“I will forever be grateful to the mentors who have pushed me outside of my comfort zone. We also have world-class facilities in Australia enabling ground-breaking research and innovative collaborative projects. I am looking for the next antibiotic to combat drug-resistant infections, and it takes advanced scientific, technological and administrative systems to function.”
If at times your confidence is a little shaky, where do you turn?
“I can count on a very supportive network of women and men around me, on their experiences and their expertise. There is always someone I can turn to for addressing concerns or uncertainties. I also practice mindfulness and Harvard Business School social psychologist Professor Amy Cuddy’s “power poses”. Watch her Ted Talk on body language and challenge your inner wonder woman!”
What is your ideal holiday – and do you work on your holiday?
“My ideal holiday is being out horse riding on trails or beaches all day in New Zealand or in the USA. After I get off the saddle, I still follow up on pressing matters, and never lose an occasion to meet or connect with someone I could follow up with for professional matters, so I guess I rarely completely switch off.”
“An excellent intellectual property position is a key starting point. This is in addition to having a proven concept or great technology. A quality team to back up project execution is paramount. Understanding and being able to explain where your commercialised projects will fit into a market segment in terms of the need they will meet is also important.”
“SmartCap Technologies is a spinoff from CRCMining. CRCMining carries out industry directed research, which ensured that the research into fatigue management technologies was a high priority for the mining industry at the project’s inception.
In SmartCap’s case, the industry support was sufficiently high that Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, in conjunction with CRCMining, co-funded the development of the prototype commercial SmartCap products.
This ‘incubation’ of the SmartCap technology by a significant end user was extremely important to advancing from research into prototype products.
The prototype products performed sufficiently well for SmartCap to be selected by two other large mining companies for large supply contracts for fatigue monitoring technology.
So the support of significant end users, along with the commercial contracts the company had in place at that time, provided potential investors with the confidence to invest in SmartCap Technologies.”
“Pharmaxis has been restructured following a regulatory setback for our lead product. Rebuilding investor confidence has been critical to our longer term success. To do this we focused on three things:
1. transparency – explaining the business model and being clear about the risks as well as the opportunity;
2. building in meaningful milestones which marked development steps that significantly reduced risk and provided opportunities to realise value;
3. hitting milestones and delivering realistic objectives.”
“I think there are a number of reasons investors are drawn to our business: Admedus has two technology platforms which diversifies the risk for investors; we have a product on market; and we are generating revenue.
The first of the two platforms is our regenerative tissue platform, where we use our proprietary ADAPT tissue engineering process to turn xenograft tissue into collagen bio-scaffolds for soft tissue repair. The second is our Immunotherapies platform, where we work with renowned scientist Professor Ian Frazer and his team to develop therapeutic vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancers.
Our lead regenerative tissue product CardioCel, which is used to repair and reconstruct congenital heart deformities and more complex heart defects, has made the journey from prototype to commercial product and is on the market in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia.
Frazer’s previous success with the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) program that lead to the USD$2 billion product, Gardasil, is well-recognised and gives investors further confidence in our immunotherapy work.
As a result, Admedus has a good balance of validated science via approved products and an exciting product pipeline working with successful scientists. This balance, along with our diversified program portfolio, gives investors confidence in our business. “
Because the technology was engineered to take elite athlete monitoring from the laboratory to the field, value was seen in the data immediately as there was no precedent for this type of information. A new product category had been formed and Australian Olympians were now able to train in their performance sweet spot without getting injured because their coaches had objective data to guide their lead up to big events.
So this combination of pioneering a new industry in a popular space (elite sport), with the ability to create immediate value, certainly helped with the initial funding.”
“Neuropathic pain is a large unmet medical need because the currently available drug treatments either lack efficacy and/or have dose-limiting side-effects.
Due to this, my patent-protected angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist technology – encompassing a potentially first-in-class novel analgesic for the treatment of often intractable neuropathic pain conditions – attracted initial seed capital investment from the Symbiosis Group, GBS Ventures and Uniseed Pty Ltd. In total $3.25M was raised and in mid-2005 the spin-out company, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was formed by UniQuest Pty Ltd, the main commercialisation company of The University of Queensland.
The raison d’etre for Spinifex Pharmaceuticals at that time was to develop AT2 receptor antagonists as efficacious, well-tolerated first-in-class novel analgesics for relief of neuropathic pain.
In 2006, I discovered that AT2 receptor antagonists also alleviated chronic inflammatory pain in a rat model. This was quite unexpected as clinically available drug treatments for neuropathic pain, such as tricyclic antidepressants and newer work-alikes as well as gabapentin and pregabalin, do not alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as osteoarthritis. Thus the potential for small molecule AT2 receptor antagonists to alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions was patent protected by UniQuest Pty Ltd in 2006 and subsequently in-licensed to Spinifex Pharmaceuticals for commercialisation.
As both neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain are large unmet medical needs, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was able to raise additional venture capital from the initial investors as well as from Brandon Capital to fund Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) toxicology and safety pharmacology studies, as well as early phase human clinical trials. “
– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland
“Investors understood that the intellectual property would be generated in-house and there was no “stacking” from the beginning.
We were fortunate at the outset to meet two venture capitalists and a number of high net worth individuals who saw the potential upside in our business plan, had already had some success with investing in biotech – e.g. Biota – and did not ask ‘who else is in?’.
That being said, we had very limited time and money to show proof of concept, and only after that and our first patent, did we convince those investors that we had something viable.”
– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors
Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are changing the chemistry in the ocean. When carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater, it forms carbonic acid. The increased acidity, in turn, depletes carbonate ions – essential building blocks for coral exoskeletons.
There has been a drastic loss of live coral coverage globally over the past few decades. Many factors – such as changing ocean temperatures, pollution, ocean acidification and over-fishing – impede coral development. Until now, researchers have not been able to isolate the effects of individual stressors in natural ecosystems.
“Our oceans contribute around $45 billion each year to the economy”
The international team – led by Dr Rebecca Albright from Stanford University in the USA – brought the acidity of the reef water back to what it was like in pre-industrial times by upping the alkalinity. They found that coral development was 7% faster in the less acidic waters.
“If we don’t take action on this issue very rapidly, coral reefs – and everything that depends on them, including wildlife and local communities – will not survive into the next century,” says team member Professor Ken Caldeira.
Destruction of the GBR would not only be a devastating loss because it’s considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, but would be a great economic blow for Australia.
Our oceans contribute around $45 billion each year to the economy through industries such as tourism, fisheries, shipping, marine-derived pharmaceuticals, and offshore oil and gas reserves. Marine tourism alone generates $11.6 million a year in Australia.
Impact of acidification on calcification
Corals absorb carbonate minerals from the water to build and repair their stoney skeletons, a process called calcification. Despite the slow growth of corals, calcification is a rapid process, enabling corals to repair damage caused by rough seas, weather and other animals. The process of calcification is so rapid it can be measured within one hour.
Manipulating the acidity of the ocean is not feasible. But on One Tree Island, the walls of the lagoons flanking the reef area isolate them from the surrounding ocean water at low tide – allowing researchers to investigate the effect of water acidity on coral calcification.
“We were able to look at the effect of ocean acidification in a natural setting for the first time,” says One Tree Reef researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, Kennedy Wolfe.
In the same week, an independent research team from CSIRO published results of mapping ocean acidification in the GBR. They found a great deal of variability between the 3851 reefs in the GBR, and identified the ones closest to the shore were the most vulnerable. These reefs were more acidic and their corals had the lowest calcification rates – results that supported the findings from One Tree Reef.
Marine biologists have predicted that corals will switch to a net dissolution state within this century, but the team from CSIRO found this was already the case in some of the reefs in the GBR.
“People keep thinking about [what will happen in] the future, but our research shows that ocean acidification is already having a massive impact on coral calcification” says Wolfe.
For a country that makes up just 0.3% of the world’s population, Australia packs a heavyweight punch in science – generating 3.9% of the world’s research publications. However taking that research to market has proved a broader challenge.
Fostering the commercialisation of research success and encouraging collaboration between industry and researchers is at the forefront of the government’s renewed focus on scientific innovation, with over $1.1 billion earmarked to kickstart the “ideas boom” as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Fibrotech develops novel drug candidates to treat fibrosis (tissue scarring) associated with chronic conditions such as heart failure, kidney and pulmonary disease, and arthritis. The company spun out of research by Professor Darren Kelly at the University of Melbourne in 2006, and its principal asset is a molecule, FT011, which helps prevent kidney fibrosis associated with diabetes. In May 2014, in one of Australia’s biggest biotech deals at the time, Fibrotech was acquired by Shire, a Dublin-based pharmaceutical company, for an initial payment of US$75 million. Further payments, based on a series of milestones, will bring the total value of the sale to US$557.5 million, and the deal was awarded Australia’s best early stage venture capital deal in 2014. At the time of the sale, FT011 was in Phase 1b trials for the treatment of renal impairment in diabetics – a market worth US$4 billion annually.
SOLD FOR:acquired by Novartis for US$200 million up-front payment plus milestone payments
Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was launched in 2005 to commercialise chronic pain treatments developed by Professor Maree Smith of The University of Queensland. Pharmaceuticals giant Novartis acquired the company in 2015 for a total of US$725 million, based on the promising results in Phase 1b and Phase 2 clinical trials. Spinifex’s treatment targets nerve receptors on peripheral nerves rather than pain receptors in the brain, making it possible to treat the pain from causes such as shingles, chemotherapy, diabetes and osteoarthritis without central nervous system side-effects such as tiredness and dizziness.
Admedus is a diversified healthcare company with interests in vaccines, regenerative medicine, and the sale and distribution of medical devices and consumables. Currently, the company is developing vaccines for herpes simplex virus and human papillomavirus based on Professor Ian Frazer’s groundbreaking vaccine technology. In the regenerative medicine field, Admedus is the vendor of CardioCel®, an innovative single-ply bio-scaffold that can be used in the treatment of congenital heart deformities and complex heart defects.
For more than 25 years, ResMed has been a pioneer in the treatment of sleep-disordered breathing, obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic diseases. The company was founded in 1989 after Professor Colin Sullivan and University of Sydney colleagues developed nasal continuous positive airway pressure – the first successful, non-invasive treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea. Today, the company employs more than 4000 people in over 100 countries, delivering treatment to millions of people worldwide.
BioDiem specialises in the development and commercialisation of vaccines and therapies to treat infectious diseases. The Live Attenuated Influenza Virus vaccine technology provides a platform for developing vaccines, including one for both seasonal and pandemic influenza. BioDiem’s subsidiary, Opal Biosciences, is developing BDM-I, a compound that offers a possible avenue for the treatment of infectious diseases that resist all known drugs.
Vaxxas is pioneering a needle-free vaccine delivery system, the Nanopatch, which delivers vaccines to the abundant immunological cells just under the skin’s surface. Preclinical studies have shown that vaccines are effective with as little as one-hundredth of a conventional dose when delivered via a Nanopatch. In 2014, Vaxxas was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer, based on the potential of Nanopatch to transform global health.
Biotech company Acrux was incorporated in 1998 after researchers at Monash University developed an effective new spray-on drug delivery technology that improved absorption through the skin and nails. In 2010, Acrux struck a US$335 million deal with global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for AxironTM, a treatment for testosterone deficiency in men. It was the largest single product licensing agreement in the history of Australian biotechnology.
With a focus on ophthalmology, Opthea’s main product is OPT-302 – a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration – which is currently in a Phase 1/2a clinical trial. Wet macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world. Opthea was formerly known as Circadian Technologies, acting as a biotechnology investment fund before transitioning to developing drugs in 2008.
Benitec Biopharma’s leading product is DNA-directed RNA interference (ddRNAi) – a platform for silencing unwanted genes as a treatment for a wide range of genetic conditions. ddRNAi has broad applications, and can assist with conditions as diverse as neurological, infectious and autoimmune diseases, as well as cancers. The company’s current focus inludes hepatitis B and C, wet age-related macular degeneration and lung cancer.
Using a wearable electroencephalograph (EEG), SmartCap monitors driver fatigue by measuring changes in brain activity without significant discomfort or inconvenience. It notifies users when they are fatigued and what time of day they’re most at risk. SmartCap was formally EdanSafe, a CRCMining spin-off company.
Founded by the CSIRO in 2007 to commercialise the UltraBattery, Ecoult was acquired by the East Penn Manufacturing Company in 2010. The UltraBattery makes it possible to smooth out the peaks and troughs in renewable power, functioning efficiently in a state of partial charge for extended periods.
Composite materials company Quickstep was founded in 2001 to commercialise their patented manufacturing process. Working with the aerospace, automotive and defence industries, Quickstep supplies advanced carbon fibre composite panels for high technology vehicles. In 2015, the company increased its manufacturing capacity, establishing an automotive production site in Victoria in addition to their aerospace production site in NSW.
The EDV is a nanocell mechanism for delivering drugs and functional nucleic acids and can target tumours without coming into contact with normal cells, greatly reducing toxicity. Above all, the EDV therapeutic stimulates the adaptive immune response, thereby enhancing anti-tumour efficacy. More than 260 patents support the technology, developed entirely by EnGeneIC, giving the company control over its application.
Snap’s FMx is a unique approach to video surveillance that forms cameras into a network based on artificial intelligence that learns relationships between what the cameras can see. It enables advanced real-time tracking and easier compilation of video evidence. Developed at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Visual Technologies, the system is operational at customer sites in Australia, Europe and North America.
Orthocell develops innovative technologies for treating tendon, cartilage and soft tissue injuries. Its Ortho-ATI™ and Ortho-ACI™ therapies, for damaged tendons and cartilage, use the patient’s cells to assist treatments. Its latest product, CelGro™, is a collagen scaffold for soft tissue and bone regeneration.
As the demand for effective energy storage grows, RedFlow’s zinc-bromide flow batteries are gaining attention. RedFlow has outsourced its manufacturing to North America to keep up with demand, while the company’s research and development continues in Brisbane.
Since 2002, precision engineering company MiniFAB has completed more than 900 projects for customers across the globe. MiniFAB provides a complete design and manufacturing service, and has developed polymer microfluidic and microengineered devices for medical and diagnostic products, environmental monitoring, food packaging and aerospace.
RayGen’s power generation method involves an ultra high efficiency array of photovoltaic cells, which receive focused solar energy from heliostats (mirrors) that track the sun, resulting in high performance at low cost. In December 2014, RayGen and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) collaborated to produce the highest ever efficiency for the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The independently verified result of 40.4% efficiency for the advanced system is a game changer, now rivalling the performance of conventional fossil power generation.
CSL is Australia’s largest biotechnology company, employing over 14,000 people across 30 countries. The company began in 1916, when the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was founded in Melbourne. It was incorporated in 1991, and listed on the ASX in 1994. Since that time, CSL has acquired established plasma protein maker CSL Behring, and Novartis’ influenza vaccine business, and has become a global leader in the research, manufacture and marketing of biotherapies.
Dyesol Limited (ASX: DYE) is a renewable energy supplier and leader in Perovskite Solar Cell (PSC) technology – 3rd Generation photovoltaic technology. The company’s vision is to create a viable low-cost source of electricity with the potential to disrupt the global energy supply chain and energy balance.
EvoGenix began as a startup in 2001 to commercialise EvoGene™, a powerful method of improving proteins, developed by the CSIRO and the CRC for Diagnostics. It acquired US company Absalus Inc in 2005, then merged with Australian biotechnology company Peptech in 2007, to form Arana Therapeutics. In 2009, Cephalon Inc bought the company for $207 million.
With a vision to create sustainable energy through renewable biofuels, Muradel is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and SQC Pty Ltd. Their $10.7 million Demonstration Plant converts algae and biosolids into green crude oil. Muradel has plans for upgrades to enable the sustainable production of up to 125,000 L of crude oil, and to construct a commercial plant capable of supplying over 50 megalitres of biocrude from renewable feedstocks.
iCetana’s ‘iMotionFocus’ technology employs machine learning to determine what is the ‘normal’ activity viewed by each camera in a surveillance system and alerts operators when ‘abnormal’ events occur. This enables fewer operators to monitor more cameras with greater efficiency.
Phylogica is a drug discovery service, and the owner of Phylomer® Libraries, the largest and most structurally diverse suite of natural peptides. It has worked with some of the world’s largest drug companies, including Pfizer and Roche, to uncover drug candidates.
The research compiled by Refraction was judged by a panel comprising of: Dr Peter Riddles, biotechnology expert and director on many start-up enterprises; Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech; and Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The panel considered the following: total market value, annual turnover, patents awarded and cited, funding and investment, growth year-on-year, social value, overseas expansion and major partnerships.
Bookshelves in offices around Australia groan under the weight of unimplemented reports of research findings. Likewise, the world of technology is littered with software and gadgetry that has failed to gain adoption, for example 3D television and the Apple Newton. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The best are not always adopted. To change that, says Brown, developers need to know how their research solutions will be received and how to adapt them so people actually want them.
“Physical scientists, for example, benefit from understanding the political, social and economic frameworks they’re operating in, to position the science for real-world application,” she says.
The big-picture questions around knowledge and power, disadvantage and information access, political decision-making, community needs and aspirations, policy contexts and how values are economised – these are the domains of the social sciences. When social science expertise is combined with that of the physical sciences, for example, the research solutions they produce can have a huge impact. In the case of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, such solutions have influenced policy, strategy and regulations for the management of urban stormwater run-off, for example. Brown and her colleagues have found it takes a special set of conditions to cultivate this kind of powerful collaborative research partnership.
The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities has seen considerable growth. It started in 2005 as a $4.5 million interdisciplinary research facility with 20 Monash University researchers and PhD students from civil engineering, ecology and sociology. The facility grew over seven years to become a $120 million CRC with more than 85 organisations, including 13 research institutes and other organisations such as state governments, water utilities, local councils, education companies and sustainability consultancies. It has more than 230 researchers and PhD students, and its work has been the basis for strategy, policy, planning and technology in Australia, Singapore, China and Israel.
In a 2015 Nature special issue, Brown and Monash University colleagues Ana Deletic and Tony Wong, project leader and CEO respectively of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, shared their ‘secret sauce’ on bridging the gap between the social and biophysical sciences, which allowed them to develop a partnership blueprint for implementing urban water research.
8 tips to successful collaboration
Cultivating interdisciplinary dialogue and forming productive partnerships takes time and effort, skill, support and patience. Brown and her colleagues suggest the following:
1 Forge a shared mission to provide a compelling account of the collaboration’s overall goal and to maintain a sense of purpose for all the time and effort needed to make it work;
2 Ensure senior researchers are role models, contributing depth in their discipline and demonstrating the skills needed for constructive dialogue;
3 Create a leadership team composed of people from multiple disciplines;
4 Put incentives in place for interdisciplinary research such as special funding, promotion and recognition;
5 Encourage researchers to put their best ideas forward, even if unfinished, while being open to alternative perspectives;
6 Develop constructive dialogue skills by providing training and platforms for experts from diverse disciplines and industry partners to workshop an industry challenge and find solutions together;
7 Support colleagues as they move from being I-shaped to T-shaped researchers, prioritising depth early on and embracing breadth by building relationships with those from other fields;
8 Run special issues of single-discipline journals that focus on interdisciplinary research and create new interdisciplinary journals with T-shaped editors, peer-reviewers or boards.
A recent Stanford University study found almost 75% of cross-functional teams within a single business fail. Magnify that with PhD research and careers deeply invested in niche areas and ask people to work with other niche areas across other organisations, and it all sounds impossible. Working against resistance to collaborate requires time and effort.
Yet as research partnerships blossom, so do business partnerships. “Businesses don’t think of science in terms of disciplines as scientists do,” says Brown. “Researchers need to be able to tackle complex problems from a range of perspectives.”
Part of the solution lies in the ‘shape’ of the researchers: more collaborative interdisciplinary researchers are known as ‘T-shaped’ because they have the necessary depth of knowledge within their field (the vertical bar of the T), as well as the breadth (the horizontal bar) to look beyond it as useful collaborators – engaging with different ways of working.
Some scholars, says Brown, tend to view their own discipline as having the answer to every problem and see other disciplines as being less valuable. In some ways that’s not surprising given the lack of exposure they may have had to other disciplines and the depth of expertise they have gained in their own.
“At the first meeting of an interdisciplinary team, they might try to take charge, for example talk but not listen to others or understand their contribution. But in subsequent meetings, they begin to see the value the other disciplines bring – which sometimes leaves them spellbound.
“It’s very productive once people reach the next stage in a partnership where they develop the skills for interdisciplinary work and there’s constructive dialogue and respect,” says Brown.
In a recent article in The Australian, CSIRO chief executive and laser physicist Dr Larry Marshall describes Australians as great inventors but he emphasises that innovation is a team sport and we need to do better at collaboration. He points out that Australia has the lowest research collaboration rates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and attributes this fact to two things – insufficient collaboration with business and scientists competing against each other.
“Overall, our innovation dilemma – fed by our lack of collaboration – is a critical national challenge, and we must do better,” he says.
Brown agrees, saying sustainability challenges like those addressed by the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities are “grand and global challenges”.
“They’re the kind of ‘wicked problem’ that no single agency or discipline, on its own, could possibly hope to resolve.”
The answer, it seems, is interdisciplinary.
There’s a wealth of great advice that CRCs can tap into. For example the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC approached statistical consultant Dr Nick Fisher at ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy specialising in performance management, to find the main drivers of the CRC’s value as perceived by its research partners, so the CRC could learn what was working well and what needed to change.
Fisher says this kind of analysis can benefit CRCs at their formation, and can be used for monitoring and in the wind-up phase for final evaluation.
When it comes to creating world-class researchers who are T-shaped and prepped for research partnerships, Alison Mitchell, a director of Vitae, a UK-based international program dedicated to professional and career development for researchers, is an expert. She describes the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which is a structured model with four domains covering the knowledge, behaviour and attributes of researchers, as a significant approach that’s making a difference to research careers worldwide.
The RDF framework uses four ‘lenses’ – knowledge exchange, innovation, intrapreneurship [the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working with a large organisation] and entrepreneurship – to focus on developing competencies that are part and parcel of a next generation research career. These include skills for working with academic research partners and industry.
Featured image above: In his National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.
Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.
With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meetsParliamentprogram covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.
The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.
It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.
This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.
Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.
Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.
“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.
There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.
The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.
CEO of Vinehealth Australia, Alan Nankivell, who is leading the project, says phylloxera had a significant economic impact on the wine industry, as “the quality of our wines is based on the quality of our vines”. Eighty per cent of Australia’s vineyards have vines that are own-rooted, rather than grafted onto resistant rootstock; some are very old and the wines produced from these are highly sought after.
Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) feeds on grapevine roots and leaves them open to bacterial infection, which can result in rot and necrotic death due to cell injury. It destroyed substantial areas of vines in France in the mid-19th century and has affected several winegrowing areas of Australia; the only effective treatment is removing infested vines and replanting with resistant rootstock.
Financially, the cost of managing a vineyard with phylloxera is estimated to range from 10–20% in additional operating costs.
The current method of detection uses a shovel and magnifying glass to inspect sites in areas of low vigour; however, phylloxera may have been present for some time and the test is usually conducted in summer, one of the industry’s busiest seasons.
The new DNA-based test requires 10-cm soil core samples to be taken 5 cm from the vine’s trunk. The samples are then sealed and sent to a lab where they are dried and tested for the presence of phylloxera DNA.
Nankivell says the incidence of finding phylloxera using the test was very high (around 98%), even when the amounts of phylloxera present were low.
“At the moment, we’re able to find phylloxera at sites any time of the year.”
The new DNA-based test could help prevent the spread of phylloxera in Australia, as those who have it on their property can determine where it is and whether it is spreading.
Sampling in vineyards across Australia over time will establish a baseline for the maintenance of area freedom. Nankivell says with this baseline in place, the quarantine management and farm-gate hygiene of vineyards will improve industry knowledge about where phylloxera is and isn’t.
PBCRC researchers are currently working to establish the most suitable grid pattern for taking the soil core samples.
They will also compare the DNA sample method with two other methods: the ‘shovel method’ and another using emergence traps to catch insects inside an inverted container placed on the soil, to determine performance against selected criteria.
This research strongly supports the wine industry’s focus on identifying and managing biosecurity threats to ensure the ongoing health of grapevines. Healthy vines are the foundation for a prosperous Australian wine industry.
To learn more about phylloxera, click here or watch this video about the Phylloxera Rezoning Project carried out in Australia:
Stories of ‘unicorn’ Initial Public Offerings and billionaires in their 30s are great. But it’s the creation of quality jobs that truly makes innovation a national priority.
A recent report from the Office of the Chief Economist showed Australia added about one million jobs from 2006–11. Start-up companies added 1.4 million jobs, whereas older companies shed 400,000 jobs over the same period. But it’s not any start-up that matters; only 3.2% of start-ups take off in a dramatic fashion, providing nearly 80% of those new jobs. While Australia has a relatively high rate of companies starting up, the key seems to be getting more of them into high-growth mode.
When Israel faced a massive influx of immigrants after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it turned to innovation as a means of providing jobs. Given the country’s lack of natural resources, they didn’t have a choice. A population of four million people taking in one million more meant Israel had to become an innovative economy.
They grew their investment in research and development dramatically – to the point where Israel is now one of only two countries consistently spending more than 4% of GDP on R&D.
Israel has translated that spending into high-tech export success. Now, multinational technology company Intel employs over 10,000 Israelis. The Israeli Government is hands-on in its approach to de-risking early stage companies. But this is not achieved through government spending alone. In fact, the Israeli Government’s share of total R&D spending is just one-third of that of Australia, and its higher education sector is just one half. Business carries the lion’s share of R&D spending in Israel, making up 80% of the total, compared with 60% in Australia.
If we want jobs, we need innovation. We are in a unique period when there seems to be complete political agreement on this point. If we want innovation, we should take lessons from wherever we can learn them to develop the Australian system. A lesson from Israel is to use government spending more effectively at the early stages of company development to shift more start-ups into high-growth mode. If we could double the current 3.2% of today’s start-ups that become high-growth companies, we could provide more rewarding jobs for Australia’s future.
Israel concentrates almost 100% of its government innovation support for business on small and medium-sized enterprises. The comparable figure for Australia is 50% – a big hint for what we could do differently to fire up our start-up sector.
An estimated one in 50 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research from La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) shows that the majority of these children are not diagnosed until they are four years old, more than two years after they can be reliably diagnosed and receive life-changing intervention.
The technique underlying ASDetect has been used over the past decade by hundreds of maternal and child health nurses in Australia, as well as early childhood professionals around the world. It has proven to be more than seven times more accurate than the next best tool in the early identification of autism.
Salesforce developed the ASDetect app on a pro bono basis as part of the company’s 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model, where the company donates 1% of its employee’s time, its products and its equity to support the not-for-profit sector. A team of Salesforce engineers, designers and developers volunteered their time to build the app on the Salesforce platform.
The app uses questions drawn from breakthrough research by La Trobe’s Dr Josephine Barbaro. It gives parents access to video footage from actual clinical assessments and clearly demonstrates the context and expected key behaviours of children at each age.
“ASDetect is an empowering tool for parents who may feel their children are developing differently than expected and are looking for answers. The new ASDetect app is an ideal way to share proven techniques with thousands of parents,” says Barbaro.
Through a series of videos and questions, ASDetect guides parents through the identification of potential “red flag” signs of ASD. These “red flags” can be raised when young children repeatedly do not:
make consistent eye contact;
show their toys to others;
play social games;
point to indicate interest;
respond when their name is called.
“All typically developing infants are motivated to be social, look at other people’s faces, learn from them and copy. Children with ASD are not doing this – and we can now accurately identify this at a much younger age and take action, with the help of parents,” says Barbaro.
The app combines Barbaro’s assessment questions with videos demonstrating the ‘red flag’ behaviours critical in determining the likelihood of ASD in children as young as 12 months. Parents view two videos: one showing a child with ASD, the other showing a typically developing child. Parents then answer questions regarding their own child. The information entered by the parents is automatically sent to OTARC’s database, which also runs on the Salesforce platform, where analysis of individual results is completed. Parents are then sent information via a notification through the app, with advice as to whether they should seek professional help. As ASD can emerge over time, ASDetect includes assessments for children aged 12, 18 and 24 months.
“This is not a replacement for professional assessment; however ASDetect will provide parents with an indication as to whether they should seek a professional opinion from a doctor at a time when intervention will have the biggest impact,” says Barbaro.
Dan Bognar, Senior Vice President, Salesforce APAC says: “The ASDetect app is a great example of leveraging the power of the Salesforce platform to improve the capabilities of health providers and treatment for individuals. Being able to deploy on a global scale means that organisations like OTARC can make a significant impact on society.”
“The development of ASDetect highlights our ethos of giving back as well as our commitment to improving the local communities we operate in. It has been incredibly rewarding for everyone involved, and we look forward to seeing the results of this important initiative,” says Bognar.
Watch ASDetect in action:
This information was first shared in a press release by La Trobe University on 14 February 2016. Read the press release here.
A team of fund managers will ensure the government’s investment is matched dollar for dollar by private investment, and the MRFF is expected to be fully funded once more from 2018-19. The government and private investment hope to bring in a revenue base “in the billions” in the next few years, according to Bill Ferris, the Chair of Innovation and Science Australia.
Plus the pool of money available to help Australia’s biotech industry to navigate the two ‘valleys of death’ – stages of research development and clinical trains that have stonewalled innovation in Australia – could be much greater, says Brigette Smith, Managing Partner of GBS Venture Partners.
“This is potentially a $2.5 billion investment in Australian technology,” she says, adding that traditionally every $1 equity from Australian investment attracted $5 from international partners.
“The absence of funds has been soul destroying” says Julie Phillips, Chair of AusBiotech and CEO of Australian biopharmeceutical company BioDiem.
Biomedical fund was the missing piece
Bill Ferris was instrumental in calling for the fund through the Government’s McKeon Review – Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research – Better Health through Research in 2013. He told the briefing this morning that there has been “lots of R and negligible D’ in terms of Australian Research & Development.
Ferris says the two valleys of death occur at preclinical phase (Death Valley 1) where a lack of funding inhibits development, and at advanced preclinical Phase I and Phase II in-human trials (Death Valley 2). The fund will “encourage people to give it a go at Death Valley 1 and bridge Death Valley 2” he says.
“It will support Australian technology to remain in Australia for longer, boost nano-engineering and advanced manufacturing and improve Australia’s health outcomes in the medium- to long-term,” he adds.
Details of the fund were released at the event today, in both Sydney and Melbourne. The fund will be delivered through several fund as yet un-named fund managers, with $50-$125 million of taxpayer’s money each, who will then seek similar private investment.
The funds will be delivered to companies with strong Australian input with the aim of creating jobs and pushing through innovation. The find will operate over an average of 7 and maximum of 15 years.
“This $500 million initiative will fuel an exciting development for biotech, med tech and venture capitalism,” says Ferris, who is also Co-Chairman and Co-founding partner of CHAMP Private Equity.
“It will reduce the innovation death rate and reduce the need for our innovation to be carried offshore.”
Crew Dragon pad abort test, part of the December 2015 mission. Credit SpaceX
Speakers at the 2016 Southern Hemisphere Space Studies ProgramSpace and Entrepreneurism public event in Adelaide on January 28 have highlighted the challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry.
Alex Grant, whose South Australian company Myriota is developing tiny devices to transmit data to and from remote locations, said finding commercially competitive ways to solve people’s problems was vital.
“If you can solve people’s problems at a price point they are willing to pay then that’s when you start getting investment, that’s when you start getting customers,” he said.
Flavia Tata Nardini, a former European Space Agency propulsion engineer, moved to Adelaide before founding Launchbox in 2014 to change the way people understood space science.
She has since also founded Fleet, which aims to use a constellation of low orbit satellites to bring cheap internet connections to the developing world.
Building a space industry
“Entrepreneurship is adventure and it’s a really hard adventure,” she told the audience at the University of South Australia’s Mawson Centre.
“You have to have an idea and then you have to make it happen … the only way you can do this is to understand where are the troubles … what is it that people need.
“For me it was a personal thing. When I arrived in Australia I thought I wanted to see that in 20 years everybody loved space, everybody was studying space.
“Launchbox is now a two-year-old company and it’s going great … I’ve seen so many students coming to me saying I want to study aerospace and be a space engineer because of you guys and that’s a very big achievement.”
Tata Nardini said the goal with Fleet was to provide internet for people all over the world who could not afford to pay more than $2 a month.
“To find investors we have learned to pitch what problem we are solving,” she said. “The problem we are solving is giving internet at very low cost to 3 billion people who are currently not connected.”
She said besides the strength to never give up, entrepreneurs need “a good analysis of what is out there, a good understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and a bit of luck.”
Brett Burford is the founder of AU Launch Services, an Adelaide-based consulting group that works with CubeSat manufacturers, owners and operators and serves as a single point of contact for clients.
Burford said finding the right niche required by the market was his key to establishing in the space industry.
“This is a million miles away from the first pre-conceived idea that I had but sometimes you just have to let go and say what does the market really need,” he said.
“You also need to understand the whole picture. There are regulatory issues, there are politics, there are a whole number of other factors that impact what you do.
“We really need to understand there is a market and we need to find out what the market needs are and realize we are not a space company, we provide services that require elements from space and that is the underpinning of what a space industry is.”
The next Elon Musk
Burford said global entrepreneurs in recent years like SpaceX founder Elon Musk had “brought space down closer to us than it has ever been”.
“And the closer that we feel to space the more we feel like maybe we can have some impact in that,” he said.
“When I first started looking into the space industry I came across a shortcut … what is the quickest way to become a space millionaire … to be a billionaire and start investing in space.
The trip was a revelation, as I witnessed in a very real and tangible way that a national groundswell towards a knowledge-based economy is possible.
As Avi Hasson, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy explained, Israel has accelerated from “oranges, as the largest export 20 years ago, to technology now being a $US50 billion GDP contributor”.
After an inspiring eight days studying the mechanisms of one of the world’s great start-up communities – and particularly the key role that universities play in technology transfer – I believe it is vital that Australian universities capitalise on the new focus on innovation and collaboration if we are to create our own startup nation.
‘Collaboration [is] a breath of fresh air between industry and Israel’s universities’
I saw in Israel that a culture formed from 2000 years of overcoming adversity underpins innovation and entrepreneurship there. The startup community’s innovative spirit is also formed in the crucible of military conscription, where lives are at risk and everyone is personally involved and affected.
It is something of the national character that Israelis are alert to possibilities that can make a difference, and willing to take action, quickly!
This culture is not a template Australia can replicate. However, the delegation’s visit to a number of different educational institutions allows an Australian take on the Israeli strategy.
As delegation member Jonathan Marshall, founder of Bondi Labs, put it, we were witness to “mutual collaboration – a breath of fresh air between industry and Israel’s universities”.
In Israel, everyone knows everyone, and this promotes positive channels between governments, academia and industry. For universities, the key is to find researchers who are early adopters of industry collaboration, and to experiment with small initiatives.
Demonstrating small wins in a risk-averse environment like Australia will assist in propagating advocates, and will generate incentives to commercialise technology developed by our institutions.
Technion, a science and technology research university based in Haifa, north of Tel Aviv, has a strong mechanism to engage entrepreneurs: every student enrolled has to take a mandatory Minor in Entrepreneurship.
This particularly resonated with Adrian Turner, CEO of Data61, CSIRO’s commercialisation vehicle. He says it reminded him of the 18 years he spent in the US’s startup nation Silicon Valley. “The system seems to be very focused on encouraging students to pursue the entrepreneurial path,” he says. The result? Technion transfers into the economy 100 student-led businesses a year, with revenues that exceed $US32 million.
‘The system seems to be very focused on encouraging students to pursue the entrepreneurial path’
Building a startup nation
At the other tech transfer leader, Hebrew University, researchers are strongly encouraged to engage with industry.
Liaising with professionals with real-life challenges and opportunities influences academic research outcomes, in turn solving unmet market needs. Products based on the university’s tech transfer developments generate more than $US2 billion in annual sales.
Both business models are successful. As Sarah Pearson, CEO and Founder of Canberra-based CBR Innovation Network explains, “Science and innovation education permeate the culture of Israel, beginning by engaging three-year-olds in science. Parents value entrepreneurship as a career, universities foster a culture of impact and commercial outcomes, and the government supports this in a strategic and holistic way.”
A lot has been said about the need for Australian schools to provide more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. In Israel, Jon Medved, CEO ofOurCrowd, the world’s biggest equity crowd funding platform, told us Israel is “running out of geeks”.
So, visiting the science and technology education centre Technoda was humbling. Technoda attracts more than 30,000 children a year to science enrichment classes, from every ethnic group, religion and lifestyle.
With the recent opening of a second campus, just 10 kilometres north of Gaza, it is clear STEM education can and must be accessible to everyone.
From a university perspective, Australia needs to worry about the brain drain as well. Some 8000 IT students graduate from Australian universities and return to homes overseas each year.
Until the throughput of social ventures such as Code Club Australia start to drive new, local STEM talent into the Australian workforce, we must do much more to encourage this demographic of international graduates to stay and help build our tech startup community.
Universities have a major part to play in guiding future talent into an innovative environment where government, industry and academia collaborate.
We can promote this now with students playing a central role. Students must be able to access entrepreneurial education programs and easier ways to commercialise university technologies.
Israel is leading the way. It’s time for Australia to take the next step. – Stephen Rutter
Stephen Rutter is Manager of UTS Business School’s Business Practice Unit. Among other things the unit facilitates engagement between faculty, industry and the entrepreneurial community. He was previously an Executive in Residence at Flinders University, where he was involved in starting up its New Venture Institute.
See the federal government’s Innovation Statement here, and the Innovation Inquiry Report here, including the Expert Report by the Dean of UTS Business School, Professor Roy Green.
UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs talks about university and industry working together here.
Remoteness, cultural differences and follow through on health issues from diagnosis to treatment are persistent barriers, says Selina Madeleine, Global Communications Manager of the Brien Holden Vision Institute.
The Indigenous eye care toolkit addresses these identified gaps in the system by allowing health workers to assess current health care practices, and includes referral flowcharts and information that can be sent electronically, as well as eye testing kits.
The toolkit is also made with consideration of Indigenous community perspectives, says Madeleine.
“I don’t think there’s anything quite like this out there, specifically targeting improved eye care outcomes within the Indigenous population,” she adds.
The kit has been used for five years across NSW and the Northern Territory and measurements over the last two years show an increase in optometry examinations from 51% to 97% and in ophthalmology services from 28% to 93%.
Follow through from use of the Indigenous eye care toolkit has also jumped, with the proportion of referred individuals with diabetic retinopathy who saw an ophthalmologist up from 25% to 54%, and those referred for cataracts and who received surgery up from just 3% to 32%.
More funding needed
The toolkit is now being disseminated to hundreds of other health care workers in these states and Madeleine says the Institute plans to role it out further.
“We would like to role this out in other states across Australia because it has been so successful in the places we’ve used it so far.”
Madeline says a lack of funding is all that is preventing the widespread adoption of the toolkit elsewhere.
Oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain more than 97% of the planet’s water. An estimated 80% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast, and fish provide the bulk of the protein consumed by humans. But the marine ecosystem impacts of global warming on the biodiversity of ocean waters are difficult to determine.
Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide – the result of activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation – are acidifying and warming the world’s oceans.
One of the most widely documented effects of warming, according to Dr Adriana Vergés, senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of New South Wales, is the widening distribution of tropical fish as they move away from equatorial waters towards the poles, resulting in increasing numbers of tropical species appearing in temperate waters.
The marine ecosystem impacts from this warming has profound implications for the underwater environment and marine life.
“Species have three options in response to changing conditions – they die, adapt or move,” explains Vergés. “We are seeing a lot of movement. And because the rate of change is so fast, the question is: will species be able to keep up?”
The intrusion of tropical fish to temperate waters, referred to as tropicalisation, could have far-reaching repercussions for the health of these waters, their biodiversity and the industries that rely on them.
“When the tropical fish arrive, they overgraze on the seaweed and the whole system begins to shift,” says Vergés. “And we’re starting to see this in oceanic waters around northern NSW, where algal forests are disappearing.”
“In Australia, the two largest fisheries are abalone and rock lobster, whose preferred habitats are algal forests and seagrass meadows. If you lose algal forests, the abalone industry will collapse, with significant consequences for the fishing industry and the economy.”
The Abalone Council Australia Ltd estimates about 4500 tonnes of wild abalone were harvested in Australian waters last year, worth around $180 million. And according to Southern Rock Lobster Ltd, in 2011–12 rock lobster fishing produced around 3000 tonnes, worth nearly $175 million.
Vergés, however, is working to reverse some of the damage to the algal forests that threaten this industry.
Together with a number of volunteers, she is involved in Operation Crayweed, a project that aims to re-introduce crayweed – a vital habitat for lobsters, abalone and crayfish – to the waters around Sydney.
“The project is looking to bring crayweed back to the whole of Sydney. We’ve re-planted crayweed, and it has started to come back – we’re now on to our third generation. It’s a really good news environmental story, and we hope the fisheries will benefit too,” she says.
As well as helping to save the fisheries industry and reduce the marine ecosystem impacts in temperate waters around Sydney, Vergés is also involved in the Scientists in Schools national program, where she sparks enthusiasm for the wonders of the underwater world in seven and eight-year-olds.
“It’s so rewarding – children are natural scientists and they ask all the right questions. Speaking to a group of them is the closest I’ve felt to being a rock star. And they love absolutely anything to do with the sea. They are the best audience without a doubt,” says Vergés.