One of the greatest strengths of Australia’s CRC Program, now in its 28th year, is how it brings together research and commerce — bridging the gap between discovery research and industry-ready innovation — in the form of an innovative product. Here are three recent CRC-driven Australian innovative product success stories.
The drug is a PRMT5 inhibitor, with potential to treat both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. PRMT5 (protein arginine methyltransferase 5) is an enzyme that protects against cancer-causing mutations. Abnormality in PRMT5 is linked to many cancers. MSD is not just developing and commercialising the PRMT5 inhibitors, but also funding an ongoing collaboration with CTx.
“What MSD realised was the background science here in Australia was such high quality, they continued to support it to help advance the development,” says Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of CTx.
One key to the success of the project was how CTx managed their intellectual property, says Tong. “It’s almost a cliché, but if you don’t own it you can’t sell it,” he explains.
Tong also believes it’s important to share the rewards. “We do lots of drug discovery projects and many of them will fail,” he says. “To benefit from commercial return, researchers need to have contributed to the CRC but not necessarily to the successful project.”
Australia’s first electric bus
The first Australian-designed and manufactured electric bus is now part of a Transit South Australia trial. The result of a partnership between the Automotive Australia CRC (Auto-CRC), Swinburne University of Technology and Bustec, the electric bus can travel at 80 km per hour and has batteries that can be charged to 80% in 10 minutes.
The ultra-modern interior includes electronics that report their own faults, as well as integrated electronics, making it possible to know where the bus is, how the driver is driving it and if anything is wrong during the trip.
This information can be used to improve the efficiency of the bus network and user experience, such as reporting traffic jams and advising users to take an alternative bus. The results from this trial are expected by the end of the year.
With Auto-CRC’s funding term completed, the Electric Vehicle (EV) Laboratory at Swinburne University is continuing the research, and is now developing an electric harvester in conjunction with the Malaysian Automotive Institute.
“We are also looking at linking with Indian manufacturers to use
the electric technology in India for harvesters, buses and cars,” says Professor Ajay Kapoor, Swinburne’s Pro Vice Chancellor for International Research Engagement and leader of the EV Laboratory.
Kapoor believes the whole innovative product development process should involve learning more about consumer needs.
“There is a big disconnect between what experts tell us consumers would like and what they actually would like,” he says.
One in four Australian children have tooth decay, while one in 25 Australians over 15 have no natural teeth at all. In 2012–2013, $8.7 billion was spent on dental care in Australia. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria attach to sugars from foods to make acid that softens and eats away tooth enamel. But now we can prevent it.
Your regular dentist-applied fluoride treatment is likely the result of breakthrough research by an Australian team who developed and commercialised ‘Tooth Mousse Plus’ through the Oral Health CRC (OH-CRC). This discovery helps reverse the damage decay can cause to teeth, by improving the absorption of fluoride.
The innovative product is based on a component found in dairy milk that hardens teeth — another Australian find and one that’s responsible for protecting the oral health of millions. The potential savings are estimated to be more than $12 billion in dental work to date worldwide.
Thirty years ago CEO of OH-CRC, Professor Eric Reynolds and his team at Melbourne University indentified that casein peptide complex (casein phosphopeptide amorphous calcium phosphate) found in dairy milk can strengthen and remineralise teeth.
The milk extract was developed into an innovative product called Recaldent, which is used in sugar-free gum and the Tooth Mousse product. “Recaldent took many years of research and support to develop but it is now in a range of products that benefit millions around the world,” says Reynolds.
Recaldent is patented by OH-CRC and is produced in Melbourne using Australian milk by GC Corporation, a Japanese company and OH-CRC partner. For his tireless work in inventing and commercialising Recaldent, Reynolds was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.
The OH-CRC has also developed a vaccine for gum disease and is now working on its commercialision.
Collaboration is a simple idea. You can teach it to a child: ask a child to share something and soon enough they will. Although they may initially react by turning away or looking down, given enough impetus they’re soon leaping around enjoying the benefits and challenges of shared play.
Scale it up to groups, organisations, industries, and academia, and it can seem complex. Industry has a commercial imperative; traditionally researchers sought more lofty goals or truths. Both universities and industry want to protect their IP. Working out the details is a legal wrangle; ensuring a shared vision when you don’t share the same location is a constant gamble.
Successful collaborations must have some form of flexibility or adaptability, yet large organisations can be slow in moving together, and in moving forward.
Technology has shifted the pace, as well as the level of expectation in terms of team collaboration. Tech companies have collaboration in their DNA, and cloud technology and automation are driving us faster towards collaborating closely – often with people we have never physically met.
Our level of trust is changing, and is threatened by a jumpy global attitude towards people who are different from us, and the prevalence in our lives of internet connected devices. Yet as the Hon Philip Dalidakis MP points out, cybersecurity is a collaboration opportunity as much as it is a shared risk.
To remain relevant, to keep pace in this shifting landscape – to compete in a global marketplace and as part of the world’s fast-moving network of research that forms the global brains trust – that will not happen unless we dramatically shift our perspective.
Technology has tethered us to the world and taken away the scourge of distance. Suddenly we’re accessible as a country in a way we have never been before.
Collaboration opens up opportunities as well as presenting challenges. It has long been happening at the level of individuals, as people from industry, research, community and government form alliances of interests. Our challenge is now to upscale. And it’s a tough one.
We may not have the same processes and infrastructure as other countries in developing the impetus to push our burden of change, Sisyphus-style, up this mountain. But as these thought leaders demonstrate, we are taking some great strides – and are at least like the reluctant child, now looking up towards the benefits of collaboration.
Featured image above: Christophe Hoppe with his new Bauselite luxury watch casing. Credit: Flinders University/Bausele.
In 2015, Bausele became the first Australian luxury watch brand to be invited to Baselworld in Switzerland – the world’s largest and most prestigious luxury watch and jewellery expo. Its success is, in part, thanks to a partnership with nanotechnologists at Flinders University and a unique new material called Bauselite.
Founded by Swiss-born Sydneysider Christophe Hoppe, Bausele Australia bills itself as the first “Swiss-made, Australian-designed” watch company.
The name is an acronym for Beyond Australian Elements. Each watch has part of the Australian landscape embedded in its crown, or manual winding mechanism, such as red earth from the outback, beach sand or bits of opal.
But what makes the luxury watches unique is an innovative material called Bauselite developed in partnership with Flinders University’s Centre of NanoScale Science and Technology in Adelaide. An advanced ceramic nanotechnology, Bauselite is featured in Bausele’s Terra Australis watch, enabling design elements not found in its competitors.
NanoConnect program fosters industry partnership
Flinders University coordinates NanoConnect, a collaborative research program supported by the South Australian Government, which provides a low-risk pathway for companies to access university equipment and expertise.
It was through this program that Hoppe met nanotechnologist Professor David Lewis, and his colleagues Dr Jonathan Campbell and Dr Andrew Block.
“There were a lot of high IQs around that table, except for me,” jokes Hoppe about their first meeting.
After some preliminary discussions, the Flinders team set about researching the luxury watch industry and identified several areas for innovation. The one they focused on with Hoppe was around the manufacture of casings.
Apart from the face, the case is the most prominent feature on a watch head: it needs to be visually appealing but also lightweight and strong, says Hoppe, who is also Bausele’s chief designer.
The researchers suggested ceramics might be suitable. Conventional ceramics require casting, where a powder slurry is injected into a mould and heated in an oven. The process is suitable for high-volume manufacturing, but the end product is often hampered by small imperfections or deformities. This can cause components to break, resulting in wasted material, time and money. It can also make the material incompatible with complex designs, such as those featured in the Terra Australis.
New material offers ‘competitive edge’
Using a new technique, the Flinders team invented a unique, lightweight ceramic-like material that can be produced in small batches via a non-casting process, which helps eliminate defects found in conventional ceramics. They named the high-performance material Bauselite.
“Bauselite is strong, very light and, because of the way it is made, avoids many of the traps common with conventional ceramics,” explains Lewis.
The new material allows holes to be drilled more precisely, which is an important feature in watchmaking. “It means we can make bolder, more adventurous designs, which can give us a competitive advantage,” Hoppe says.
Bauselite can also be tailored to meet specific colour, shape and texture requirements. “This is a major selling point,” Hoppe says. “Watch cases usually have a shiny, stainless steel-like finish, but the Bauselite looks like a dark textured rock.”
Bauselite made its luxury watch debut in Bausele’s Terra Australis range. The ceramic nanotechnology and the watch captured the attention of several established brands when it was featured at Baselworld.
Advanced manufacturing hub in Australia
Hoppe and the Flinders University team are currently working on the development of new materials and features.
Together they have established a joint venture company called Australian Advanced Manufacturing to manufacture bauselite. A range of other precision watch components could be in the pipeline.
The team hopes to become a ‘centre of excellence’ for watchmaking in Australia, supplying components to international luxury watchmaking brands.
But the priority is for the advanced manufacturing hub to begin making Bausele watches onshore: “I’ve seen what Europe is good at when it comes to creating luxury goods, and what makes it really special is when people control the whole process from beginning to end,” says Hoppe. “This is what we want to do. We’ll start with one component now, but we’ll begin to manufacture others.”
Hoppe hopes the hub will be a place where students can develop similar, high-performance materials, which could find applications across a range of industries, from aerospace to medicine for bone and joint reconstructions.
Featured image above: BAE Systems new e-textile could benefit a wide variety of professions, including the military. Credit: BAE Systems
A wireless conductive fabric that allows soldiers to plug electronic devices directly into armour is making a commercial push into Southeast Asia.
BAE Systems has developed the Broadsword Spine garment, which is being distributed throughout the Asia Pacific region by its Australian arm, based in Adelaide.
It was designed using a unique e-textile created by Intelligent Textiles Limited in the United Kingdom and can be inserted inside vests, jackets or belts.
BAE Systems’ wireless connector promises a range of benefits for multiple professions including the emergency services.
Broadsword Spine is on display this week at the Land Forces 2016 event in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.
Program manager David Wilson said the technology was extremely lightweight and was able to pass power from any source, which made it adaptable to an assortment of devices.
“It’s revolutionary in terms of how it can pass power and data through USB 2.0,” he says.
“It reduces the weight and cognitive burden of the soldier because it is doing a lot of power and data management automatically.
“It also has no cables, which means you’ve got no snag hazard and no issue in terms of the breaking of cables and having to replace them.”
Broadsword Spine has been designed to replace contemporary heavy portable data and power supplies used by the military as well as firefighters, paramedics and rescue personnel.
The lack of cables and additional batteries make the new material 40 per cent lighter than other systems.
The e-textile was also developed to withstand harsh environments and is water, humidity, fire and shock resistant.
The material uses highly developed yarns that act as the electricity and data conductor.
It is able to connect to a central power source to support all electronic devices and is easily recharged in the field using simple batteries or in-vehicle charging points.
There are eight protected data or power ports that are capable of supplying 5A and operate at USB 2.0 speeds.
The management of power and data is automated and is performed by a computer that is embedded into the e-textile loom.
Users also have the option of monitoring and controlling the technology manually using a smartphone app.
Wilson said contemporary models were often heavy could be highly complicated products that required special maintenance.
“It’s unique in that regard in that we don’t sell the whole system, we sell the middle architecture and allow the customer to decide what they want and how to integrate that system,” he says.
“We’ve published the pin-outs and connections so they can create their own integration cables. They don’t have to keep coming back to us and that way they can support it themselves.”
Low rate production of the Broadsword Spine has begun in the United Kingdom.
Wilson said when production increased, the company would work to distribute the product to the Asia-Pacific region from its Adelaide base next year.
Land Forces is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier defence industry exhibition and has more than 400 participating exhibition companies from about 20 countries as well as about 11,000 trade visitors.
South Australian exhibitors at the event include University of South Australia, which has developed camouflage cells for tanks, and Supashock, which has unveiled damping technology taken from race cars for use in army trucks.
Featured image above: Cancer research at the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre has received a funding boost. Credit: CTx
The Chief Executive of the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre (CTx), Dr Warwick Tong, announced last week that a majority of its current partners have chosen to reinvest their share of the recent cash distribution from CTx back into the organisation.
In January 2016 CTx licensed its PRMT5 Project to MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) in a landmark deal and received over $14 million dollars as its share of the signature payment. Novel drugs arising from the project will be developed and commercialised by Merck. Potential future milestone payments and royalties will also be shared within the partnership.
“Our 2013 application to the Department of Industry CRC Programme outlined the intent to actively secure reinvestment of funds from any commercialisation success back into our cancer drug development activities”, said Tong. “To have this commitment from our partners is the validation and support we wanted.
“The more than seven million dollars will boost our ability to deliver new cancer drugs for adults and children”.
“CTx has made great use of its partnership network to deliver this project,” said Professor Grant McArthur Chair of the CTx Scientific Advisory Board. “The reinvestment is a very positive recognition by the partners that CTx will continue to provide benefits for patients and strengthen translational cancer research in Australia”.
Featured image above: CSIRO has received significant budget cuts in recent years. Credit: David McClenaghan
The election is rapidly approaching, and all major parties – Liberal, Labor and Greens – have now made announcements about their policies to support science and research.
But how are we doing so far? Here we look at the state of science and research funding in Australia so you can better appreciate the policies each party has announced.
The latest OECD figures show that Australia does not fare well compared with other OECD countries on federal government funding research and development.
As a percentage of GDP, the government only spends 0.4% on research and development. This is less than comparable nations.
But looking at total country spending on research and development, including funding by state governments and the private sector, the picture is not so bleak: here Australia sits in the middle among OECD countries.
Over the years, there have been hundreds of announcements and new initiatives but this graph indicates that, in general, it has been a matter of rearranging the deck chairs rather than committing to strategic investments in research.
The Paul Keating Labor government made some investments. During the John Howard Liberal government’s years, there were ups and downs. The Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard Labor governments were mostly up. And in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, the graph suggests that it was mostly down with science.
Over the past decade, there have been some minor changes in funding to various areas, although energy has received the greatest proportional increase.
This pie chart reminds us that the higher education sector is a major provider of research and is highly dependent on government funding. It also tells us that business also conducts a great deal of research.
But, sadly, one must remember that funding is effectively being shifted from one domain to another, and it has seldom been the case that significantly new commitments are made. The balance of red and blue shows how one hand gives while the other takes funding away.
This is remarkable, given that the ARC funds all disciplines, including sciences, humanities and social sciences, while the NHMRC essentially focuses on human biology and health.
This graphic also highlights the lack of any sustained funding strategy. The only clear trend is that the investment in the ARC has gradually declined and the NHMRC has grown.
This, in part, reflects the undeniable importance of health research. But it is also indicative of effective and coherent organisation and communication by health researchers. This has been more difficult to achieve in the ARC space with researchers coming from a vast array of disciplines.
The agenda states that our future prosperity and well-being are intimately tied to the nation’s ability to innovate, that is, to draw on new ideas to develop new products and services.
This is of course not a new concern. For more than three decades governments have noted that Australia languishes at the low end of international measures of innovation and, in particular, lags well behind other developed nations when it comes to links between university research and the world of business.
“There is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.”
Over the years many programs have been developed to remedy this state of affairs, and across the country we can see the fruits of these endeavours. Webs of connections have developed among our universities nationally, and from universities to the wider world of industry, government, professionals and the wider community.
But there is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.
The fact that we remain behind the international pack in building productive links between our university researchers and those who might put research to practical use indicates that concerted efforts are needed at all levels to overcome some persistent barriers.
One of those barriers comes from what might be thought of as ‘business as usual’ within universities. One of the strengths of universities is that they provide a home for independent-minded and highly intelligent people to pursue their passions and to delve at depth into their areas of speciality.
This strength can be a weakness, however, if universities as a whole are unable to coordinate and support academic expertise in ways that make the whole more than the sum of the parts.
Even the most powerful universities, such as Harvard in the U.S., have long struggled with this issue.
At QUT we have sought to break the mould by making partnerships an integral feature of our research by, for example, establishing research institutes which are not stand-alone ‘research hotels’ but instead bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to work on carefully selected themes, alongside people who can make best use of the research findings.
The goal is not just to translate research into better health products and practice, but also to develop new interdisciplinary models of education and training. Particular examples are the following:
Examples of interdisciplinary models
1. The Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management within IHBI has been developing its international links, hosting 14 present and future leaders from the Maldives, the Philippines and Pakistan for a five-week intensive training program in 2014 to advance disaster risk reduction and management.
2. QUT’s Medical Engineering Research Facility (MERF) at the Prince Charles Hospital Chermside provides a comprehensive suite of research and training facilities in one location. MERF allows researchers in medical and healthcare robotics to develop applications that will be able to be translated directly to human use. Fellowships have been supported by orthopaedics company Stryker to provide training and research in hip and knee replacement surgery, and Professor Ross Crawford has supervised more than 40 PhD students in orthopaedic surgery techniques, with many of these students working in robotics.
Many of these initiatives are relatively new, and sustaining them will require commitment from all partners and ongoing innovation in our own models of working. QUT is determined to see that not only these efforts flourish, but that they also provide a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields. This is evidenced through the following examples.
Providing a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields
1. QUT has put considerable investment over time not only into the institutes but also into ensuring they integrate seamlessly with the rest of the university. For example, developing models of funding and recognition of research outputs that work across institute and faculty boundaries. This enables researchers to move between their academic “home” and the research institute, in contrast to the usual stand-alone model of a research institute.
2. Within IHBI, research is being translated into improved therapies and support services for patients. Professor David Kavanagh launched a $6.5 million e-mental health initiative in 2014 to train primary health practitioners in the use of e-mental health services. Professor Kenneth Beagley led the development of a new oral vaccine that shows promise for protection against herpes simplex virus and Dr Willa Huston has developed a new chlamydia diagnostic for infertility in women.
3. The IFE’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities researchers have had a significant breakthrough with the world’s first human trial of pro-vitamin A-enriched bananas. The genetically modified bananas have elevated levels of betacarotene to help African children avoid the potentially fatal conditions associated with vitamin A deficiency. This work has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
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.”
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.
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.
Innovation works something like this. A research scientist has a brilliant idea. It’s developed into a product and commercialised. The general public love it and buy lots. The developers become wealthy. Many lives are greatly improved.
Sorry, let’s try again.
A research scientist has a brilliant idea. An arduous process follows to develop a product. Once it’s finally on the market, the public are afraid/suspicious of the underlying technology. Commercialisation fails. Few lives are improved.
Reality lies somewhere in between. Why? Let’s begin with a simple definition: innovation is doing clever stuff in a smarter way for a good outcome. It can be about a product, process or service. The impact can be grand or incremental.
To some, innovation means certain economic growth and social betterment. Examples of brilliant science leading to great products with huge consumer demand are smartphones, WiFi, organic light emitting diode televisions, robotics.
Planet-wide changes, such as population and climate, create unique challenges needing new solutions. Science, coupled with innovation, has the potential to create such solutions… if we get the innovation side right.
Unfortunately for Australia, 21st century innovation isn’t based on the good fortunes of geography, geology and climate. We’ve long relied on digging up resources and selling them overseas, or on fattening sheep and exporting them.
Now as Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, articulates: “There’s no question that at some point our economy is going to have to shift and become substantially different from what it is now and be based on innovation.”
There is a clear and growing chasm between where we are and need to be. Australia’s challenge is to bridge that gap and move towards a sustainable economy less vulnerable than the one to which we are sentimentally attached that’s previously yielded the nation’s prosperity.
Australia does good science and is, sometimes, creative. But we have a poor record of commercialising good science and understanding innovation. The 2012 Innovation System Report points to a shortage of management education and innovative culture and highlights an imbalance between government versus private R&D spending. There’s a lack of: R&D growth in key areas; business access to publicly funded research expertise; mobility of researchers between academia and business; and a concerted national science, technology and innovation strategy.
Increasingly, research highlights the importance of incorporating consumer needs into successful innovation strategies to ensure acceptance of new products or services. There are examples – such as genetically modified (GM) crops as an agricultural productivity solution – in which developers provide answers where few people saw a problem. Alternatively, members of the public may believe research wrongly crosses an ethical divide – embryonic stem cell research is an example. Public rejection also occurs with solutions such as nanotechnologies, where misinformation about risks dominates information flow about the science.
It’s not just about selling products harder or better explaining the science. I’ve spent years in discussions with people opposed to GM, nanotechnology and vaccinations and their issues are rarely with the science. It’s more about personal values: from concerns about messing with nature and ethical fears over genetic information misuse; to opposition against monopolising agri-conglomerates. Align a product with public values and it has a better chance of a dream run. Clash with those values and there could be trouble.
It makes sense to ask end-users what they want. If the public had been consulted about GM science back in the mid-1990s, for example, we may not have seen agricultural firms using the technology to develop herbicide- or pesticide-resistant broadacre crops, but perhaps non-food crops that produce pharmaceuticals or healthier foods, with more public support.
More contentious and innovative research is currently underway in Australia. The potential benefits are enormous. But their applications will need strong institutional support and community endorsement, skilled developers and sufficient funds for commercialisation. A lot of very clever people will need to cooperate in new ways to share old wisdom and new ways of thinking.
This is an edited version of an article from The Curious Country, ANU Press, 2013