Bridging the valley of death
February 14, 2020
John Brumby discusses BioCurate and the challenge of commercialisation with Innovation Intelligence. The following is an excerpt from Innovation Intelligence's upcoming book: Australia’s Nobel Laureates Vol. III: State of Our Innovation Nation 2020 and Beyond, taking a whole of economy health check of Australia’s innovation ecosystem.
When I was a young backbencher in the Hawke Government, one of the people I admired and learned from was the Minister for Science, Barry Jones. Barry had written the globally influential book Sleepers, Wake! in which he warned that ‘technologically based transitions create revolutionary economic and social changes.’ He called on governments to shape the future for the better through smart responses to technological change. To his credit, Barry Jones pushed the Hawke Government to invest a lot more in science, R&D and technology. He secured some wins, including a $1m National Biotechnology Program. Barry once told me, however, that he had a recurring nightmare. He worried that after all our efforts and all our investments, we would look back in years to come and find that Australian scientific research had not moved far along the path from the laboratory to the market. If this happened then our research would have failed to make its maximum possible impact in the world.
I’m afraid to say these fears came true. Australia can be proud of our scientific achievements, especially in medical research. But an ongoing frustration is that too little of it makes the long journey to market. Too much is lost in the ‘valley of death’ before it can even reach the clinical trial stage. And if it doesn’t reach clinical trial, it can’t reach patients. BioCurate was set up to address this problem, and has already become an important part of Australia’s innovation ecosystem.
BioCurate came about thanks to an unprecedented partnership between the Vice Chancellors of Victoria’s two biggest universities: Monash University and the University of Melbourne. It was the first time two universities of this size, in such close proximity to one another (making them competitors) had come together in this way. Both Vice Chancellors recognised that their universities were sitting on a gold mine. Melbourne and Monash receive about $100m per annum each in government funding for medical research, and both are in the top 100 universities in the world for research output. But the Vice Chancellors also realised that the right settings were not in place to make good on the promise of this research—to get it to the bedsides of the patients that need it. They decided to put their money where their mouths were. Each university invested $25m, and the Victorian Government invested another $10m. BioCurate was launched in 2016, and I was proud to come on board as Chair. In 2017 we were delighted to appoint distinguished haematologist and oncologist Dr Glenn Begley as BioCurate’s inaugural CEO.