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!