OPINION: Innovation needed for eureka moments

NO Treasurer can please all the people all the time in a tough economic climate, but each federal budget manages to have a funding centrepiece that shines like a beacon among the inevitable winners and losers.

Defence, education, infrastructure, welfare and so on have all had their time in the spotlight, now it’s the turn of medical research with the announcement of the new Medical Research Future Fund that is expected to generate $20billion by 2020.

Here, the government has recognised the importance of medical research in securing our long-term health and prosperity, while globally, it will elevate Australia to the top echelon of nations doing the heavy lifting in health research and development.

That is vitally important because Australia must innovate in order to flourish. For too long in the medical research sphere, good ideas have struggled to evolve from seed phase because the purse could stretch only so far.

With the creation of this $20-billion endowment fund into perpetuity, we finally have the financial clout and stability needed to encourage our best and brightest minds to go into medical research and stay for the long haul.

It can take years, even decades, for research to reap clinical benefits. Researchers have to unravel highly complex health conundrums and expand or validate existing knowledge, which takes time.

Eureka moments are rare.

Usually, such positive outcomes are the result of systematic investigation involving experimentation, testing, interpretation and critical appraisal. Ultimately, it is about preventing illness, reducing mortality, refining healthcare policy and developing beneficial therapies for the community.

This has to be tempered, of course, with the need to continually provide healthcare services for today’s families. People still need to visit GPs and hospitals, which means investing equally in the “frontline” and the “future”.

Although details of the package are yet to be spelt out, the Hunter Medical Research Institute – and the Hunter community – should be well placed to benefit.

As the conduit linking the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, we facilitate the translational cycle of research, delivering results from the lab to the clinic while also taking clinical issues back to the lab for further exploration.

To borrow the Prime Minister’s “open for business” line, this is a truly international institute with its epicentre in the Hunter.

Our 1300-plus researchers not only burn the midnight oil locally, they’re also collaborating with medical research institutes around the globe, 24/7, and forging ahead with world-class findings.

We acknowledge the need to account for every dollar provided by the Hunter community, which in turn attracts government funding. We have a strong record in delivering on better health outcomes.

These will become increasingly important with an ageing population, where diseases such as cancer, diabetes, dementia, stroke, cardiovascular disease and more will create an increasing burden on Australian society.

Professor Michael Nilsson is director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute