Author: BioMedVic Comms

BioMedVic celebrates twenty years of achievements

On Thursday 5th December 2019 BioMedVic gathered a crowd in the beautiful Treetops room at the Melbourne Museum to celebrate twenty years of biomedical achievements. At this warm reception, BioMedVic counted with the participation of key figures in the configuration of the health and medical sector who have shaped Melbourne’s vibrant and changing biomedical landscape.

Having decided that the best way to mark the “End of the BioMedVic Era” was by celebrating its achievements and those of the remarkable Victorian health and biomedical research community, we brought together key players of the last twenty years to celebrate, discuss and explore the past, present and future of biomedical research in the state.

The event started its narrative in 1999, when the Bio21 Cluster was created by the Bracks government as part of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) initiative. Richard Larkins, Jane Niall, Stella Clark, Malcolm McConville and David Pennington shared their knowledge about the history behind the STI as a platform for promoting Victoria, the creation of the Bio21 Cluster and its transition to BioMedVic.

But to understand the importance and impact of past events, we knew we needed to acknowledge how far we have come today. Panel two discussed the current focus on the role of clinicians and patients, on the interplay between researchers and industry, and on the importance of the sector for economic growth. Ingrid Winship, Michael Parker and Andrew Cuthbertson gave a sector-wide perspective from different points of view, which were complemented by contributions from Katherine Locock, Celia Vandestadt and Avnika Ruparelia, participants of the successful and “life-changing” BioMedVic programs ‘Researcher in Residence’ and ‘UROP’.

Finally, we looked into the future and asked, “where will we be in 2040?”. Peter Rogers, Grant McArthur and Sam Forster discussed current sector trends in research highlighted the impact of strong leadership, strategic collaborations and international partnerships on Victoria’s future success.

We are certain that all guests appreciated learning more about the STI and the early days of BioMedVic.

The Forum was a great opportunity for BioMedVic to highlight its many achievements and celebrate its 20-year-long contribution to the biomedical research fabric across Victoria. Collaboration has always been at the heart of BioMedVic, so we couldn’t be prouder of delivering an event so aligned with this goal.

BioMedVic Chair Warwick Tong thanked everyone for attending and recognised the fabulous work of BioMedVic’s past and present staff over the years.

The event concluded with a toast to BioMedVic and to the future of biomedical research in Victoria!

(L-R): Warwick Tong, Jan Tennent, David Pennington, Jane Niall and Richard Larkins

NHMRC recognises Victoria’s leadership in health and medical research

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently announced grant outcomes, totaling $437 million distributed among 495 projects throughout Australia.

Following the usual trend, Victorian researchers have received the majority of the funding, with $392 million for 329 projects. This represents 44.3% of all funding and reflects the leadership, expertise and strength of Victoria’s capability in the health and medical research sector.

BioMedVic congratulates all NHMRC grant recipients.

More information here.

Reflecting on two decades of growth of biomedical research in Victoria

How the state became the national leader in the field

Standing on the shoulders of others  

In 2019 Victoria is unchallenged as Australia’s State of Biomedical Research.

The state attracts around 40% of the total Federal Government investment in health and medical research. Victorian organisations employ approximately 25,000 researchers and clinicians working on biotech discoveries and treatments. The commercial biomedical sector employs another 21,000 people and generates more than $12.7 billion dollars in revenue every year.

Victoria’s leadership is not an accident. It’s the result of two decades of good public policy and good governance initiated by the Bracks’ government and built on by subsequent administrations. Premier Steve Bracks and his Treasurer and Innovation Minister John Brumby understood that science and research are drivers of economic growth, so they developed the 1999 Science and Technology Initiative (STI). Backed by over $620 million, the STI supported biomedical, environmental, agricultural, manufacturing, design, and information and communication technologies across metropolitan and provincial Victoria over a decade.

The invisible hand of Victorian collaboration

One project backed by STI was the establishment in 2001 of Bio21 Australia Limited, a not-for-profit company with three founding members – the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Health and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) – and a mission to support the development of nascent biotechnology discoveries. Quickly growing its membership from 3 to 15, the Bio21 Cluster (as it came to be known) helped break down organisational barriers and enabled Parkville-based researchers to better share facilities, networks and knowledge.

Despite being referred to as the ‘invisible hand’, the Bio21 Cluster actively and transparently managed a process that encouraged multiple partners to collaborate in a series of successful bids to secure STI funding for two ‘Bio21 Developments’ – the Bio21 Institute and the Joint Proteomics Facility – and six ‘Bio21 Projects’ – BioGrid, the C3 Collaborative Crystallisation Centre, and specialist facilities for NMR, human cellular diagnosis and therapy, high throughput chemical screening, and bioresources. Although STI funding concluded in 2006, all activities arising from the Bio21 Cluster process led to additional funding and proudly continue to support Victoria’s biomedical sector.

A new era with BioMedVic

BioMedical Research Logo

2014 saw the Bio21 Cluster transform into Biomedical Research Victoria (BioMedVic), a state-wide network and the premier voice for linking health and medical research to clinical care in Victoria. By fostering collaboration between research organisations across the state, BioMedVic sought to enable effective competition on the global scale.

On behalf of more than two-thirds of the scientists and clinicians in the state, BioMedVic advocates tirelessly to government for a long-term Victorian science and innovation plan that has bipartisan support, is overseen by a senior Minister and well-coordinated across departments.

BioMedVic contends that such a plan must be supported by continued investment through a dedicated fund (analogous to the STI), is focussed on areas in which Victoria is or could be a world leader and in which the clinical and economic benefits of innovation can be captured. Fund investment decisions should be recommended to the responsible Minister by a body comprising several experienced and independent members with successful track records in investing in medical research and its commercialisation, and whose experience is augmented by that of senior representatives from Treasury and the departments of Health and Innovation.

Today, BioMedVic’s thinktanks facilitate the exchange of knowledge between key opinion leaders while our programs inspire the next generation of scientists.

The organisation bridges the gap between researchers and policy makers, and between researchers, industry and Victoria’s world-class infrastructure through bodies including:

  • Scientific Advisory Council;
  • Hospital Research Directors Forum;
  • Hospital Research Managers Subcommittee;
  • Victorian Clinical Researcher Network;
  • Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program;
  • Research in Residence program; and the
  • Victorian Platform Technologies Network.

Celebrating achievements and looking forward

Forums and programs such as these have produced new ways to collaborate across institutional boundaries, and have contributed to the growth of Victoria’s vibrant and collegial biomedical research community. We are proud of our role in its success.

In 2019 there are research technology platforms everywhere and biomedical research in Melbourne has never been more integrated.

“This growth has, paradoxically, led to a decline in our membership over the past two years in line with the emergence of a complex and changing landscape of biomedical alliances in Victoria,” says BioMedVic CEO, Jan Tennent.

“After an exhaustive exploration of options for a strategic response and with the best interests of the health and medical research community at heart, the Board decided that BioMedVic would cease operations at the end of 2019.”

While its legacy of the past 20 years is evident, BioMedVic is currently planning to host a celebration of its many achievements that will include an opportunity to explore what the next two decades might hold for health and medical research in Victoria!

ATSE welcomes biomedical leader

Prof Jan Tennent, CEO of BioMedVic, has been elected Fellow to the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). She is among 25 leaders in applying science, technology and engineering to solve real-world problems elected to one of Australia’s Learned Academies.

ATSE highlighted Prof Tennent’s career:

In her previous role as Director for Business Development & Global Alliances at Pfizer Animal Health, Professor Tennent was responsible for maximising the growth and profitability of APAC business units and leading the due diligence and negotiation teams for a number of company and product acquisitions and numerous technology licences and collaborative R&D agreements.

As a member of the CSL Animal Health executive team she was responsible for new product opportunity evaluation and leadership of product development and the launch teams for unique vaccines in Australia and the UK.

Professor Tennent’s research career included periods as Director of the CRC for Vaccine Technology and Program Manager for the Vaccines and Immunology group of CSIRO Animal Health.

Academy President, Professor Hugh Bradlow, welcomed the new Fellows. “We bring together Australia’s leading experts in applied science, technology and engineering to provide impartial, practical and evidence-based advice to enable Australia to maintain its position as a leading technology economy.”

“The 2019 cohort of new Fellows comprises a remarkable and talented group, who will contribute to helping the Academy fulfill its mission.” The Academy has also announced a Foreign Fellow, an Honorary Fellow and a Fellow elected directly by the Board.

Twelve of the 25 new Fellows are women – the highest proportion ever and almost matching the Academy’s 2025 diversity target of electing at least 50 per cent women.

The other 2019 new Fellows are:

  • Dr Douglas Bock FTSE. Director, CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science
  • Dr Lynn Booth FTSE. Chief, Joint and Operations Analysis Division, Defence Science and Technology Group
  • Dr Gunilla Burrowes FTSE. Chair, Eighteen04 Inc
  • Dr Helen Cleugh FTSE. Director, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO
  • Dr Martin Cole FTSE. Deputy Director, Agriculture and Food, CSIRO
  • Mr William Cox FTSE. Global CEO, Aurecon
  • Professor Melinda Hodkiewicz FTSE. The University of Western Australia
  • Professor Emma Johnston AO FTSE. Dean, Faculty of Science, UNSW Sydney
  • Professor Sandra Kentish FTSE. Head, School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, The University of Melbourne
  • Professor David Lloyd FTSE. Vice-Chancellor and President, University of South Australia
  • Ms Romilly Madew AO FTSE. Chief Executive Officer, Infrastructure Australia
  • Professor Neena Mitter FTSE. Director, Centre for Horticultural Science, QAAFI, The University of Queensland
  • Distinguished Professor Adrian Mouritz FTSE. Executive Dean of Engineering, RMIT University
  • Professor Saeid Nahavandi FTSE. Pro Vice-Chancellor (Defence Technologies), Deakin University
  • Professor Ranjith Pathegama Gamage FTSE. Professor in Geomechanics Engineering, Monash University
  • Dr Andy Sheppard FTSE. Research Director, Managing Invasive Species and Diseases, CSIRO
  • Dr Surinder Pal Singh FTSE. Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO
  • Associate Professor Elaine Saunders FTSE. Executive Chair, Blamey Saunders Hears
  • Dr Alison Todd FTSE. Co-Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, SpeeDx Pty Ltd
  • Professor Nicolas Voelcker FTSE. Monash University
  • Professor Chien Ming Wang FTSE. Transport and Main Roads Chair in Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland
  • Professor Huanting Wang FTSE. Monash University
  • Mr Anthony Wood AM FTSE. Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute
  • Ms Zoe Yujnovich FTSE. Chair/Executive Vice-President, Shell Australia
  • Foreign Fellow: Ms Francesca Ferrazza FTSE. Senior Vice-President Decarbonisation & Environmental R&D, Eni, Italy
  • Honorary Fellow: The Hon John Anderson AO FTSE. Former Deputy Prime Minister
  • Board-elected Fellow: Dr Andrew Thomas AO FTSE. Former NASA astronaut

The new Fellows will be formally welcomed into the Academy at its Annual General Meeting in Melbourne on 29 November.

More information:

Discount offer to BioMedVic Member Organisations 

STEM Matters are strategists, communicators, journalists and editors who specialise in engaging people with complex topics and ideas. They are offering BioMedVic Member Organisations a discount on their ‘Define Your Advantage Workshop & Recommendations’.

Through this half-day workshop, STEM Matters will help participants articulate what matters to their audiences and why working with them is compelling in a language that focuses on their needs. STEM Matters’ team data handling approach achieves consensus on audience-specific messaging across key executives, researchers and/or board. The messaging recommendations are informed by the participant’s strategic objectives so that STEM Matters can shape the messaging and review opportunities for unique communication around them. Participants will also benefit from STEM Matters’ combination of STEM, media, political, and academic sector expertise in polishing the messaging to deliver optimum traction.

For more information, email or Visit their website here:

Dr Patricia Jusuf: “There is a big difference between UROP and other undergraduate programs”

Dr Patricia Jusuf is a Lecturer at the School of BioSciences (The University of Melbourne) and Group Leader of the Jusuf Lab. Her research looks into the genetics of nerve cells to understand how they are generated and regenerated. Read on for Patricia’s insights following her experience as a UROP Supervisor.

You became a UROP supervisor in 2012, after finishing a post-doctoral fellowship in the UK. When you submitted your project, you were a senior researcher setting up a research program in neural development and regeneration at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI). What made you decide to be part of UROP?

I had been recruited at ARMI as a senior post-doc within Peter Currie’s Muscle Research Group at the start of 2011. Peter Currie, nowadays the Institute Director, encouraged me to put in a project for UROP. I thought it could be a great opportunity because there was a lot of work to be done and also because it could help me develop my mentoring skills. I had heard about the high calibre of UROP students, so it was really an easy decision to make!

How was your experience with your student?

I was very impressed with Andrew. He was really motivated and keen to learn, he wanted to be in our lab and definitely earned his place there. His motivation translated into a very positive work attitude, which meant that he was not only intelligent and good at learning techniques, but he was also a pleasure to work with.

What do you think makes UROP special?  

There is a big difference between UROP and other undergraduate programs. A majority of undergrad programs get assessed, which means that students need to have results, and this tends to make projects more tailored and time-consuming for the supervisor. But as UROP is not for assessment it makes for a very hands-on experience that allows supervisors to spend time exposing their UROP students to lab meetings, lab work and relevant seminars, in addition to training them in the laboratory skills needed to get data for their UROP project.

UROP students should consider the bigger picture and view
their placement as a privilege and an amazing career opportunity 

From your UROP experience, what do you think students bring to a research team?

UROP scholars are very intelligent and capable, so having them around helps the whole lab on many levels. For supervisors, having a UROP student keeps us aware that we are role models helping to shape a young person’s future, which motivates us to be our best selves in and out of the lab. Having a student also helps us in terms of science communication, because it can be challenging to explain a complex project to someone who has limited experience in the field. Indeed, learning how to effectively explain research goals, methods and outcomes is actually very useful for the whole lab – and this communication skills can assist us on other occasions, such as when grant writing.

BioMedVic’s UROP methodology matches a research project with a specific student candidate. How would you value this feature of the program?

From a student point of view, this is a major benefit because it allows students to explore an area they are interested in, so it is an invaluable experience. Even if a student ends up in another field of research, there are many skills that are transferable across research jobs, including lab techniques, safety procedures and science communication. From a supervisor perspective, the fact that students get placed based on their interests is crucial in terms of their attitude, their honest involvement in the lab, and the level of the discussions held. It’s beneficial for both parties!

What tips would you give to students about to start their UROP placement?

I would tell them to focus on the positives. It’s normal for some experiments to fail but UROP students should consider the bigger picture and view their placement as a privilege and an amazing career opportunity.

And what tips would you give to UROP supervisors?

I would recommend supervisors adapt the project to the student and set realistic goals. Also, to integrate the student into your team and keep in mind what an amazing role you have in shaping somebody’s future!

Read more about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) here.

Successful Induction Program for New HREC Members

Text by Dr Angela Henjak, Senior Manager, Office of Ethics & Research Governance, Alfred Health.

The Victorian HRDF Hospital Research Managers (HRM) Sub-Committee wishes to extend its gratitude to Biomedical Research Victoria (BioMedVic) for its assistance and generous support in facilitating the Induction Program for New Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) Members held on the 15th of August in Melbourne.

Being new to an HREC can be daunting, and overwhelming resources on the practical aspects are not readily available. The aim of the program was to build on the induction provided by the individual HRECs by providing sessions on a few key areas, including: an overview of the ethical principles which underpin human research, the various types of consent and requirements thereof, expectations of HREC members, as well as a Lay member’s experience.

Hosted by Alfred Health, 35 attendees from numerous hospital, university, research institute and government HRECs across Victoria engaged with the presenters, among whom were an HREC Chair, HREC Lay Member and Managers of Research Offices, who kindly shared their wealth of knowledge, insight and expertise. The forum also allowed for discussions and exchanges of experience as well as an opportunity to forge new connections among those who attended. All in all, a successful event based on the feedback provided.

NHMRC Grants announced – Funding for 132 projects in Victoria

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant outcomes have been recently announced. The funding adds up to a total of $440 million, distributed among 298 new projects around Australia.

Victoria received 45% of all the research funds, with $203 million for 132 projects. This proportion highlights the unparalleled strength of the Victorian health and medical sector.

BioMedVic warmly congratulates all recipients of the NHMRC grants.

You can find more information here.

Jett Osborne: “My UROP project has showed me how real science is”

Jett Osborne is a Biomed undergrad student at RMIT that applied for UROP in 2018. As he finalises his UROP project at The Bio21 Institute, we interview Jett and his supervisor, Dr Matt Dixon, to discover more about what made this placement so successful.

You were selected for UROP when you were in second year. How did you find the selection process and the interview panel?

Jett: The whole process seemed pretty daunting, but I have never been a nervous person in those kinds of situations. The interview was more like a conversation and I didn’t feel “attacked” by the questions. I actually enjoyed it!

Matt: When I was on the interview panel, I observed that the students that did best were the ones that treated the interview more like a conversation. I can see why some people might get nervous, but as a tip – if you think about the interview more as an informal chat about science and your interests it won’t be so daunting.

Once you were selected, you had to meet your prospective supervisor. How did you prepare before sitting down with Matt?

Jett: The truth is, I stayed awake until 3am on the night before to prepare for it! The meeting went well, and it was easy because Matt explained the project and what I would be doing really well.

Matt:  I could tell you had prepared for the meeting because you had intelligent questions to ask about the project and the research area.

What is the topic of your UROP project?

Jett: My UROP project looks at how the sexual stages of the Malaria parasite change shape and why this is important for the transmission of the parasite by mosquitos. There are 5 sexual stages of development, and my project was to investigate which proteins shape the parasite in the different stages of development. If these proteins are targetable, then maybe we can block them and potentially stop the transmission of the disease.

Matt: We have been working on these stages of the parasite for quite a long time now. The lab has been trying to understand how the banana shape of sexual stages of the malaria parasite supports the survival inside the human host and helps the transmission by the mosquito.

Jett: It’s a very good project, it makes you ask a lot of questions and is very hypothesis-driven. I really like that, as a lab, we are working on the same overarching questions but approaching them from different angles.

Following on from that, how has your lab experience been?

Jett: It’s been really cool. We are all working on different proteins and structures involved in the shape formation of the Malaria parasite, with our work coming together to answer the main research question of why shape is important from malaria transmission. I feel very lucky to have been placed here! Our lab is very social, and people are very supportive. It has been a great learning experience.

Matt: I want the UROP scholars in my lab to work on projects that will lead them to publications, and for them to feel that they have a large role in driving the projects themselves too. Jett fitted in really well from the beginning.

And now that you are about to finish your project, how has it met your expectations?

Jett: The coolest expectation met has been getting to see every step of the research process. My UROP project has showed me how real science is. Now that I have seen how it works and that I have monitored all the steps in our project, I feel I can understand the timings and the whole rhythm of the research project better.

In our lab, everyone is so dedicated and driven
that I felt very stimulated to try harder

What was the biggest thing you learnt from your UROP placement?

Jett: I have learnt about patience, but most of all, I have learnt about work ethic. In our lab, everyone is so dedicated and driven that I felt very stimulated to try harder. And this feeling has affected everything that I do these days. That is my favourite take-away!

Matt: There is a big shift in UROP from your typical marks-driven outcomes that the students are used to from their undergraduate studies, towards being part of a team, which motivates each other and works together to answer big questions. The UROP program gives you a nice taste of what science is like.

Matt, from your point of view, what is an attribute that Jett has that has made this project successful?

Matt: Jett is very enthusiastic, which has been great for the lab. Having a genuine interest in what you do filters into how hard you work on the project, how many extra background readings you do, and how well you interact with others in the lab. In general, the best set of attributes you can have is coming in with eyes open, willing to try different things and to work hard.

Jett: Working in Matt’s lab has also been a humbling experience. I have been working with people with knowledge that goes well beyond mine, so I had to push myself to keep on growing and learning.

Having a genuine interest in what you do filters
into how hard you work on the project

If you could talk to students thinking about UROP, what piece of advice would you give them?

Jett: If you haven’t applied for UROP yet, first consider if research might be for you. Be proactive, talk to your lecturers and professors, find a field that’s of interest. And if you have already been selected for UROP, prepare for your project, read your supervisor’s papers and get to know what they do specifically in their field. And as Matt said before, remember to go in with fresh eyes!

And what are your next steps from here?

Jett: I’m moving to Hong Kong as part of the New Colombo Plan, which is a very competitive scholarship from the Australian government. First, I’ll finish my undergrad studies at the end of December, and after that, I will do a 6-month internship with a Biotech company.

Matt: This is a great opportunity for Jett. He will now be able to see the industry side of research, and when he comes back, he will be able to choose what he prefers.

Jett: I’m very lucky!

Dr Matt Dixon (left) and Jett Osborne (right) at The Bio21 lab.

Read more about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) here.

2020 Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research

Applications are currently open for the 2020 Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research, recognising the exceptional contributions and capabilities of Victoria’s emerging early career researchers in their PhD studies.

Recipients of the Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research category awards receive $5,000 and an additional $15,000 is granted to the Premier’s Excellence award winner, receiving $20,000 in total prize money.

The five award categories include:

  • Aboriginal Researcher undertaking research in any field of health and medical research
  • Health Services Researcher
  • Public Health Researcher
  • Basic Science Researcher
  • Clinical Researcher

Key Dates:

  • Applications Open: 1 August 2019
  • Applications Close: 30 September 2019
  • Awards Ceremony: 23 March 2020

You can find more information regarding application requirements, eligibility and selection criteria here.