AAMRI President-elect speaks on the MRFF

AAMRI President-elect speaks on the MRFF

9th June, 2014

doug cropped for newsAAMRI President-elect and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Director Doug Hilton appeared on ABC-TV’s Lateline to discuss the Medical Research Future Fund.

A transcript of this feature is below. The video can also be watched online.

The fate of the proposed Medical Research Future fund, which was announced in May’s budget, hangs in the balance with the senate shaping to reject the Medicare co-payment that would provide the money for the fund.

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: A key backer of the Abbott Government’s planned multibillion-dollar Medical Research Future Fund says it could still go ahead without using money raised from the controversial Medicare co-payment.

The fate of the proposed fund, announced along with the co-payment in last month’s Budget, hangs in the balance, with the Senate poised to reject the Medicare co-payment that would pump money into the fund.

The leading research body, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has been lobbying parliamentarians in a bid to keep the fund proposal alive, as Lateline’s Hamish Fitzsimmons reports.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS, REPORTER: Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is 100 years old next year. It’s a world leader in immunology, infectious disease and cancer research. It’s been pressing for a bigger commitment to funding, so the Budget announcement of the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund was exactly what it’s been lobbying for.

DOUG HILTON, WALTER AND ELIZA HALL INSTITUTE: I think what it does is put medical research funding on a secure footing in a decadal – 10, 20, 30-year – way. It says to kids that are going through primary school that if they’re good at science, that there will be an opportunity to have a career in medical research. And again, I come back to the point that it takes a long time to take a discovery through to a clinical benefit.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The fund is due to start in 2022 with the earnings from the $20 billion capital mount to flow into research. But it rests on the $7 Medicare co-payment that’s not looking like making it through the Senate at this stage.

Doug Hilton says he’s met senators since the Budget and from those discussions believes a compromise can and will be found.

DOUG HILTON: All the senators and House of Representative members, the MPs, that I’ve met understand that a fund of this nature is a good thing. They can certainly separate that in their mind, that the linking is a political thing, not anything that’s based in the reality of the fund. And I think that they are looking earnestly at ways that the fund could be created with or without the $7 co-payment.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: A forerunner to the fund was a strategic review of health and medical research released just over a year ago. It was led by the chairman of the CSIRO, merchant banker and former Australian of the Year Simon McKeon, who says this is an opportunity not to be missed.

SIMON MCKEON, STRATEGIC REVIEW AUTHOR: I just would be sad and in fact I just can’t accept that Canberra is going to allow this extraordinary idea not to go forward just because of funding. I think there’s quite a way to go with this. Obviously the minor parties, the senators in particular are going to have to I think put their heads together and come up with an idea that makes sure that this fund is not only probably funded, but actually goes forward for many, many years.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: During his review, Simon McKeon was struck by the financial stresses on young medical researchers, a plight he says the fund could address.

SIMON MCKEON: I don’t know how many young researchers in particular that I spoke to, people in their late 20s – they’d already actually been in this area for 10 years with their university course and early-stage researching opportunities – but the number of them who were actually still working part-time in a fast food outlet to pay the rent I found quite dispiriting. These were extraordinary people. It was a privilege for me to listen to their stories and of course have the – the excitement, if you like, to reduce it to writing, to say to government, “Here is a wonderful opportunity to liberate them from frankly a fairly low-paying environment and so they can be treated like other researchers are treated elsewhere.” I think there’s an enormous opportunity to allow them to break out and to really do what they ought to be doing.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Aside from providing a career path for young researchers, Doug Hilton also believes the fund will actually provide long-term savings.

DOUG HILTON: For us, it would be pyrrhic if we spend 10 years developing a new cancer therapy and the only people that could afford it are people that lived in Toorak or the north side of Sydney. And so I think it’s really important that as health care becomes more costly, that we find more efficient ways of doing it. And there are some really exciting measures in that area. So, for example, the possibility that you could sequence somebody’s genome and use that information throughout their whole life to make choices about what is going to be the most efficient treatment for a particular disease, that’s great because it allows you to avoid putting people through treatments that are going to be ineffective – and that’s obviously good for the patient, especially in something like cancer – but it also means you’re not spending money in the health care system on inefficient therapies.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Legislation for the co-payment and the fund is due before Parliament later in the year.