Tag Archives: cooperative research centres

R&D

R&D tax investment takes a hit

The biggest loser appears to be the R&D tax measures for business, reducing from $2.8b to $2.3b, a fall approaching 18%. Some care needs to be exercised as the comparisons given are not final figures; they are the estimated actual figures for 2017-18 and the budget estimate figures for 2018-19. Furthermore, the R&D tax measures are not actually government spending but are revenue foregone by the government, which is perhaps more difficult to estimate.

The full impact of changes to the R&D tax measures are yet to play out. The Ferris, Finkel, Fraser Review of the system was announced as part of the NISA statement in December 2015. The reviewers were asked to “identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the R&D Tax Incentive, including by sharpening its focus on encouraging additional R&D spending”.

The review panel found that the R&D tax measures fell short of meeting their objectives of additionality and spillovers. They recommended six changes, which have been the subject of considerable debate since the public release of the report in September 2016. A “collaboration bonus” recommendation was not taken up, although a number of advocacy groups have continued to press the case. On budget night this year, the government announced a range of measures to “refocus” the R&D tax measures. The refocusing included a crack down on R&D tax claims that push the boundaries of the arrangements, with enhanced integrity, enforcement and transparency arrangements. A consultation process closed 26 July and the final form of the legislation is expected to come before the current parliament.

What we currently know is that the government expects a significant reduction in the total cost of the R&D tax measures from 2017/18 to 2018/19. What we don’t know is how much the reduced expenditure is due to actual reduced R&D spending by companies or whether savings from the crack down and enhanced enforcement are having a great impact. While one still hears horror stories of tax claims for “R&D” that looks far more like business as usual, most of the stories haven’t changed that much from the last big reforms in 2010. Obviously no government wants to provide incentives to companies to simply do what they would have done regardless. Getting that balance right is the key to tax measures for R&D and it will remain a closely watched space over the coming year.

While indirect R&D support to business may be reducing, the direct mechanism through the CRC Program is doing relatively well. Budget figures show an increase of over $30M in the annual allocation to the program over the forward estimates, rising to $192M in 2021-22. The increase is much needed, as it brings the program back toward the level it enjoyed a decade ago. The introduction of the extremely popular CRC-Projects comes from the same budget and they continue to build momentum with business. Demand for CRC-Ps is growing substantially and companies enjoy the simplicity of the grants which foster collaboration between businesses and between business and public research organisations.

The Science, Research and Innovation Budget tables can be viewed here.

– Tony Peacock

Originally published by the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

Lowitja Institute

Reaching out to our Indigenous family across the world

The purpose of the Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC is to value the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples. As members of a global Indigenous family, we extend that purpose to our brothers and sisters across the world.

With that in mind, two 2016 activities were key achievements: a collaboration with The Lancet – published in April by the prestigious medical journal under the title ‘Indigenous and Tribal peoples’ health (The Lancet–Lowitja Institute Global Collaboration): a population study’ – and our first international Indigenous health and wellbeing conference.

The collaboration established a clear picture of Indigenous and
Tribal health relative to benchmark populations. It included data on 28 Indigenous populations from 23 countries covering approximately half the world’s 300 million Indigenous people.

What was critical – and unique to this study – was the participation of 65 contributors who were able to identify, at country level, the best-quality data available. Contributors came from all the major global regions: Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and Arctic Circle.

These regions of the world were also represented in our November conference when, underpinned by a strong cultural and scientific framework, more than 700 delegates met to celebrate, share and strengthen Indigenous knowledges.

Over three days, the program included keynote addresses by national and international experts, sessions arranged around the themes of identity, knowledge and strength, and a conference statement asserting that Indigenous peoples across the world have the right to self-determination, which, in turn underpins the right to health.

Through this work, the Lowitja Institute CRC supports networks of knowledge and collaboration, engages with the 2030 Sustainability Goals to which Australia is a signatory, and connects us to the
wider international community.

Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre

Delivering expertise for Australia’s critical infrastructure

Pipelines are not something at the front of everybody’s mind, but the crucial piping infrastructure that invisibly links our national, regional and city areas is an integral part of the energy industry and a key focus of the Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre (EPCRC).

A return in excess of $4.50 for every dollar the EPCRC spends is a tangible measure of the success of this well-established CRC.

Now in its seventh year, the EPCRC is currently working on four key program areas: more efficient use of materials; life extension of new and existing pipelines; advanced design and construction; and public safety and security of supply.

“The suite of topics is quite broad. We cover projects from basic materials research, and welding, corrosion and crack management, through to age maintenance, quality of coatings of pipelines, and cathodic protection [a mechanism used to reduce and prevent corrosion]. And how you do that is a mixture of both science and real-world experience,” says EPCRC CEO David Norman.

“What we have set up to deliver is an agenda of applied research driven by industry needs.”

The National Facility for Pipeline Coating Assessment (NFPCA) is a perfect example of how the EPCRC works via research to assist industry. An initiative of the CRC, the NFPCA is an independent facility established to perform oil and gas pipeline coating testing services.

“One of the things that industry needed was an ability to test coatings and one of the things we’ve been able to do is to satisfy that local need,” Norman says.

Prior to the establishment of the NFPCA, companies had to send coatings overseas to have them assessed. Now samples can be sent to Victoria to be tested, saving shipping costs and wait times, as well as growing local industry.

The EPCRC is now planning its next 10 years and is looking at how it can continue to add value to industry and the nation through its research projects. The organisation is also reaching out to the broader industry to identify the new challenges for which targeted research can assist with solutions through to 2030.

“By pooling our resources more widely across a whole industry, we have achieved things that never would have occurred if left to just one or two companies,” Norman explains.

“The CRC Programme is an excellent mechanism to bring together groups to tackle challenges and deliver solutions,” he adds.

The three key themes developing for the future are: life cycle management of pipelines, including research to better optimise how pipelines are designed and built, operated and decommissioned; security of supply with regards to urbanisation, public safety, and management by planning authorities; and future fluids and pipeline opportunities in the future energy transition.

As the world moves to lower carbon and potentially zero emissions, pipelines will have a critical role through their use for services other than for what they were originally designed – such as the role of storing gas in pipes rather than just transportation.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that we provide in dollar terms in excess of what the average CRC provides for every dollar invested,” Norman says.

“We are excited for what the future holds as we continue to work closely with industry.”

– Penny Pryor

research commercialisation

Research commercialisation is push and pull

‘It’s not me, it’s you’, is the message from universities to industry in terms of success in partnering and commercialisation of research and development.

Dr Leanna Read, Chief Scientist of South Australia and the founder and former CEO of TGR BioSciences, says universities are unfairly “bagged” for not pulling their weight in collaborating with industry and in fostering the development of research commercialisation partnerships.

“Our surveys have shown there is a strong interest in commercialisation and a willingness [in university research] to engage with industry,” she told the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney today.

“One of the issues is the nature of our industry sector. We are dominated by small to medium enterprises and we tend to be low in the level of innovation happening at this level. We have a problem here where research has all the will in the world to knock on doors of industry – the trouble is they’re not going to get a terribly good reception,” she says.

“We need to grow an innovative culture in these companies.”

TGR BioSciences focuses on drug discovery assay technologies and applies its core skills in cell biology to the development of new biodetection technologies.

Universities willing to engage

Emeritus Professor Jim Piper AM, President of Science and Technology Australia, and previously from Macquarie University, says there is a “high awareness” in universities to “encourage commercialisation”.

“There are impediments, however.

“One of the issues is the silo-isation of research which has been aided and abetted by the funding mechanism of universities.”

Many people forget that the university system is a service industry driven by international reputation, Piper points out. International students choose universities based on their impact factor and international reputation, and Australian universities rely heavily on liquidity from international students.

Shifting to a focus towards research commercialisation-based funding, or key performance indicators based on partnership success, the so-called ‘partner or perish’ is a massive shift in this context, he says – but one that universities are willing to make.

“One thing you can say about university researchers is they really chase the money. If that is in collaboration, then that is where they will chase it.

“One of the issues with unis is that, in most cases, commercialisation officers don’t have critical mass and there are challenges.”

For example, there are challenges in sharing and applying intellectual property (IP), he says.

“At Macquarie University, students at the start are invited to assign their intellectual property rights to the university so the uni can negotiate on their part. Often [in other universities] students keep their IP and this can be very complicated,” he told the summit.

Practice makes perfect

The problem may lie in experience in negotiations, says Professor Ian Frazer AC, Chair of the Medical Research Future Fund and inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.

“We probably aren’t experienced enough at this negotiation [between academia and industry],” says Frazer. “There are excellent examples of industry-uni partnerships working, but there needs to be a lot of talk to make this happen.

“We’ve got to change both sides of the equation, for industries and universities. For example, the health sector relies on unis to provide input to research. We need to ensure that there is engagement between health researchers and industry, but industry needs to realise that research is critical to what it does,” he says.

Dr Steve Jones, global head of research and development at Australian R&D spin off cancer company Sirtex – a medical device company providing a radioactive treatment for inoperable liver cancer – agrees that universities have “had a rough ride” to make dramatic changes to the way they incentivise research to promote collaboration and research commercialisation.

Sirtex has approached universities to work on research but found that it worked best when they had an identifiable problem to take to the researchers, he told Science Meets Business.

Unis have work to do too

Read acknowledges that universities also have work to do, with funding for projects traditionally focussed on research project grants rather than looking to the issues faced by customers, the business approach controversially emphasised by CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall, who also spoke at the summit.

“We need more of a ‘what is the problem and how do I solve it’ approach – this is what Cooperative Research Centres do well and we need more of that kind of research,” says Read.

More pull less push towards research commercialisation

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinksy says any successful negotiation “needs to be win-win” for both university and industry.

“There is a push and a pull element. There is a pioneering spirit (do it yourself) rather than an entrepreneurial spirit in terms of business and commercialisation of research. We need everyone to come together.”

He agrees that one of the barrier is around intellectual property. “Access to IP needs to be on fair and commercial terms.”

– Heather Catchpole

Read more: Collaborate or Crumble

Alex Zelinsky — Cooperative Research Centres

Partnering for research impact

The Cooperative Research Centres Program (CRC) links research, education and end users, creating a synergy that fosters innovation. Now in its 24th year, the program has led to the development of beneficial new technologies in areas as diverse as contact lenses, financial markets and advanced composite materials.

Defence is just one beneficiary of the CRC Program. For example, lifesaving improvements have been made to body armour and vehicle protection as a result of research into advanced materials and manufacturing techniques.

Safeguarding Australia will depend on our ability to use science and technology to increase the effectiveness of our people and systems. No single research organisation can meet all of Australia’s future needs – collaboration is key. The CRC Program has enabled participants – universities, publicly-funded research organisations and industry – to significantly increase the impact of their science and technology through teamwork.

“No single research organisation can meet all of Australia’s future needs – collaboration is key.”

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is supporting the new Data to Decisions CRC. This CRC will focus on creating the tools, techniques and workforce to unlock big data. Specific areas include tracking and sensor fusion techniques, visual analytics, cyber data, elastic search tools, speech and text processing, and detecting objects of interest in large imagery datasets.

Through the CRC Program, DSTO will continue to work with industry and publicly-funded agencies to create a vibrant culture of innovation, nurture the next generation of scientists and ensure that research has real impact.

– Dr Alex Zelinsky