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Brain research commercialisation must improve, review finds

Image: Robina Weermeijer, via Unsplash

Australian fund’s brain cancer mission has boosted funding, but links with industry are lacking

The Medical Research Future Fund’s brain cancer mission has increased overall money for brain cancer research in Australia—but translation of the work into treatments and commercial products has been slow, according to an independent review.

Some areas of the brain mission’s roadmap have been neglected and the mission needs a better idea of its “role and purpose”, the reviewers found. The wider MRFF is a A$20 billion government initiative that distributes around A$600 million a year across health and medical research and innovation.

The review, released on 19 December, assessed the first five years of the 10-year brain mission, up to 2022. It was conducted by the Centre for International Economics and supervised by an advisory panel led by Raelene Endersby from the Telethon Kids Institute. The CIE examined past grants and spoke to sector stakeholders and to researchers who had received funding from the mission.

The reviewers noted that “unlike other MRFF initiatives”, funding for the mission came from state governments and philanthropists as well as from the federal government. Including the MRFF’s contribution of A$60m, the mission has resulted in A$136m being allocated to brain cancer research since 2017-18. This is up from only A$1.5m in 2003-05.

More than half of the mission’s spending has been on various treatments, followed by research into diagnosis and prognosis. The extra funding has resulted in researchers moving into the field from other areas such as lung and liver cancer, the report said, and more patients have been able to access clinical trials.

Industry links

But there has been “minimal impact on building links between research and industry”, the reviewers found, with the mission not yet boosting commercialisation.

Industry and researchers told the CIE that they wanted to see more funding for basic research to “make more than incremental improvements”; a better balance between adult and child cancer funding, given the proportion of patients affected; and more support for “larger-scale multi-team and multidisciplinary collaborations”.

Some also said they felt the funding system worked against “high-risk, high-reward research” because of the way assessment and peer review operated.

“The same sentiment can also arguably be said for the way that grants are scientifically assessed across the research sector.”

The report recommended a new implementation plan for the mission and better communication with the sector, especially around grant opportunities.

The brain cancer mission is currently seeking experts to join its advisory panels. Applications close on 10 February.