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Australia ‘risks losing future capacity for medical science’

Medical institutes call for strong government support to protect research base from Covid-19 impacts

Australia could lose a generation of medical scientists unless the impact of Covid-19 on research institutes is addressed by federal government support, a national group of medical research institutes has warned.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes says a report compiled by leading research agencies and Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel has “painted a troubling extended outlook for the research community”.

The report estimates that Australia’s universities will lose up to 7,000 research jobs over the next six months due to budget cuts imposed in response to Covid-19 impacts.

It also suggests that industry may experience “a reduced capacity to innovate, given that universities perform approximately 43 per cent of all applied research in Australia”. This includes medical research such as clinical trials.

University of Western Australia medical researcher Jonathan Carapetis, who is president of the AAMRI, said the report revealed that Australia’s future research capacity was at risk.

He said it raised concerns that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates would be most affected by job cuts at universities and research institutes.

“If this happens, we could lose a generation of medical researchers and it would take years, if not longer, to regain that capacity,” Carapetis said in an AAMRI statement.

“The report outlines a harsh truth, that it’s not just about this pandemic and the effects right now, it’s about how our future research capacity is at risk.”

He said strong support was needed for medical research in Australia “so that we can deal with this and future pandemics”.

“The research sector needs continual support not just because of critical Covid-19 research but all the other vital medical research projects that are developing new treatments and therapies that we can’t afford to delay.”

Peter Thomas, the AAMRI’s director of policy and operations, said the report confirmed that the country’s medical research workforce “will be severely impacted for an extended period of time”. 

“The AAMRI has been seeing a drop-off in revenue streams at medical research institutes over the past few months, and if past downturns are any guide it could take many years for these to bounce back to pre-coronavirus levels,” he said.