COVID-19 has put health policy firmly at the top of the public policy agenda alongside security and finance, providing a unique opportunity to supercharge Australia’s biotech capabilities, says one of Australia’s leading health policy experts, Erica Kneipp.
Ms Kneipp has been appointed to the Board of the Brandon Capital managed Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), Australia’s largest life science investment fund with over $700 million under management.
As a health policy veteran, Ms Kneipp was instrumental in establishing the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and the $500 million Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF), during a decade with the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health. The MRFF effectively doubled Australia’s investment in health and medical research and the BTF marked a commitment by Australia to stimulate and grow the domestic venture capital sector.
Ms Kneipp is Head of Research Strategy at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Health and Medicine.
“COVID-19 has presented Australia with even stronger rationale to further grow and expand our biotech capabilities; the opportunity is Australia’s to seize,” says Ms Kneipp.
“Health policy has been pushed right to the top of the public policy agenda, alongside security and finance, and is appreciated now more than ever, as integral to innovation, industry, job growth, bio-security and sovereignty. Realising that, alignment of policy settings to accelerate our biomedical capabilities is essential to future-proof our nation.”
“Australia has world-class research capabilities and with the right public policy levers, and access to capital, Australia’s biomedical sector can become a major contributor to the nation’s recovery from the pandemic,” continues Ms Kneipp.
Ms Kneipp says it has been impressive to see what is truly possible when all minds are focused on health protection. “COVID-19 has fast-tracked health innovations that were once thought too hard to implement at scale, like telehealth. We need to make sure that when the pandemic is behind us, that this crisis-nudge sticks and serves to revolutionise healthcare in Australia.”
While Australia and New Zealand rank in the top five countries for biotech research capabilities, there is still more that needs to be done to improve the translation of that research into new health treatments and wealth generating businesses, Ms Kneipp says.
“We are a great ideas nation, with room to improve on how we ‘transact’ those ideas to get them into the market, making a difference to the lives of patients and creating jobs and income along the way.”
“Our universities are world-class idea generators. In this time of great transformation, it is vital to ensure and protect Australia’s discovery capability while exploring mutually beneficial collaborations with industry to enhance translational opportunities and keep the innovation pipeline primed and thriving.
Ms Kneipp says the creation of the MRFF and BTF demonstrate strong political leadership and, together with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), provide an impressive architecture to enhance biotech innovation.
“The MRFF is a national treasure and it took real political will to establish and operationalise. With the BTF, the Australian Government demonstrated its faith in the sector and a preparedness to invest in risk. Both funds, together with the NHMRC, demonstrate Australia’s commitment to reaping the full potential of biotech in term of jobs, business growth, health and wellbeing.”
The MRCF is a home-grown complement to Federal endeavours and funds and has a proven model with a reputation for realising great Australian biotech and medtech innovations and delivering returns.
Pioneer venture capitalist and Chair of the MRCF Board, Bill Ferris, says Ms Kneipp’s in-depth understanding of public policy and deep-seated belief in the importance of Australia’s biomedical sector will be an asset to the MRCF.
“Erica’s first-hand experience in designing and implementing the MRFF and BTF means she brings deep understanding of public health policy, and the importance of a thriving biomedical sector, to our national bio-security, the creation of sustainable high-value manufacturing jobs, and income generation for the country,” Mr Ferris says.
When Mr Ferris was the inaugural Chair of the Turnbull Government’s Innovation and Science Australia Board, he worked with Ms Kneipp to design and implement the BTF.
Dr Chris Nave, CEO and co-founder of the MRCF, says that Ms Kneipp’s unique experience in program implementation and research translation will be hugely valuable to the MRCF going forward.
“Medical research has been at the forefront of many minds this year with COVID-19. Because of the decades of investment by successive governments in Australia’s medical health infrastructure our country was able to respond swiftly and effectively to the national healthcare emergency created by COVID-19. Our medical research capabilities have also enabled Australia to be a key contributor in the global health response to the pandemic,” says Dr Nave.
“Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a dramatic expansion of Australia’s biotech capabilities, especially in terms of access to capital for early-stage biotech innovations,” says Dr Nave. “While huge strides have been made, the sector is still in its infancy and much needs to be done to build a late-stage manufacturing sector. COVID-19 has demonstrated the vital importance of our sector, we must use this to learn, grow and expand our capabilities.”
Ms Kneipp also sits on other Boards including the ANU National Centre for Indigenous Genomics, the ANU Centre for Personalised Immunology, and the ANU Academic Board.
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About the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) and Brandon Capital Partners
Brandon Capital Partners is a venture capital firm that manages the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), Australia and New Zealand’s largest life science investment fund. The MRCF is a unique collaboration between major Australian superannuation funds, the Australian and New Zealand governments, Australian state governments and more than 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals. The MRCF supports the development and commercialisation of early-stage biomedical discoveries originating from member research organisations, providing both capital and expertise to guide the successful development of new therapies. The MRCF has supported more than 45 start-up companies to date, most of which were founded by the MRCF.
About the Biomedical Translation Fund
The Biomedical Translation Fund was announced by the federal government in December 2015 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. It is a for-profit venture capital fund which pools public and private capital ($250 million of Commonwealth funding to be matched with private sector capital, creating $500 million for investment) for investments in companies with medical research projects at advanced pre-clinical, Phase I and Phase II stages of development.
Brandon Capital was one of three venture capital firms appointed as fund managers.