The Commonwealth Government has issued the draft terms of reference for a strategic review of health and medical research in Australia.

The review was first announced on 11 May by Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler.

Since then, Butler has been consulting with organisations such as the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes, the Australian Academy of Science, Universities Australia and the trade association for research-based pharmaceutical companies, Medicines Australia, on developing the terms of reference for the initiative.

The Commonwealth Government has been a consistent supporter of health and medical research through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the draft terms of reference say. The NHMRC allocated Aus$784.9 million across its funding schemes in 2010, while the 2011 federal budget included a 4.3% increase in funding for the Council.

The Government has also committed Aus$700 million to building and upgrading health and medical research and training facilities across Australia, it adds. On top of this comes significant investment in health and medical research by industry and state governments as well as, to a lesser extent, funding from non-governmental organisations and philanthropists.

Landscape changing

All the same, the Government says, the research landscape is changing in the face of a number of trends that have emerged over the last two decades.

These include a shift in the burden of disease towards chronic and mental health conditions; new knowledge and demand for resources arising from human genome mapping and the revolution in information and communications technologies; the larger infrastructure enabled and required by new and emerging technologies; growing recognition of the importance of translating basic research swiftly into clinical practice; and significant reform in the Australian health sector.

“Whereas Australia has been highly successful in research and development ideas up to the proof of concept stage, there are significant opportunities to improve our success in turning these discoveries into commercial ventures, as noted in a number of recent studies,” the preamble to the draft terms of reference states.

The strategic review of health and medical research will focus on optimising Australia’s capacity to produce world-class health and medical research up to 2020, taking into account broader government policies in fiscal and other areas, and with reference to issues such as:

-     The need for Australia to build and retain internationally competitive capacity across the research spectrum, from discovery through to translation.

-     Current expenditure on, and support for, health and medical research in Australia by governments, industry, non-governmental organisations and philanthropists, including relevant international comparisons.

-     Opportunities to leverage additional investment and support for health and medical research in Australia through the private sector and philanthropy.

-     The relationship between business and the research sector.

-     Strategies to ensure that Australia has the research workforce to meet future challenges and opportunities.

-     Opportunities to improve collaboration in health and medical research between the research and clinical sectors as well as other sectors relevant to public health.

-     The degree of alignment between Australia’s health and medical research and the national burden of disease, health priorities, etc.

The federal government intends to announce the Review Panel and associated Terms of Reference by the end of July. The Panel is then scheduled to hand in its final report health and medical research in Australia by 31 August 2012.