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Commercial thumbs-up for NHMRC development grants

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council should increase consultation with investors and industry on incorporating commercial milestones in grant approvals and reporting in order to increase the impact of grants, according to an evaluation report.

The evaluation of the council’s development grants scheme by the Australian Continuous Improvement Group was published on 23 November.

An average development grant is worth AU$226,769 for up to two years, providing support for research by individuals and teams at the early proof-of-principle or pre-seed stage.

The review, undertaken in April, sought to assess the economic, health and industry outcomes of the scheme. Development grants support the commercial development of a product, process, procedure or service that can improve disease prevention and health care or provide health cost savings.

All completed and current development grants funded between 2000 and 2008 were included in the review and 40 grants were sampled for more in-depth assessment. The evaluation says 80 per cent of the 40 grants had secured a commercial partner, often an Australian biotech firm, and that 55 per cent were under possible commercial development. Others had a product to market or were awaiting regulatory approval.

“The analysis of the grants sampled does show evidence of commercial development and a more than reasonable degree of commercial success,” the report says.

Some key stakeholders argued that this success rate could be higher if more researchers and their institutions studied and sought advice on potential demand for their work before applying for a grant, the report says.