Innovation in Health Roundtable

Collaboration between Industry and medical research, the depletion of Australia’s intellectual property, and the complexity of our clinical trials framework, were just some of the issues raised at a recent Health industry roundtable.

At the closed door meeting, The Hon Pru Goward MP, NSW Minister for Medical Research and Assistant Minister for Health heard the frank and honest opinions of over thirty leaders in the industry.

Chatham House Rules were invoked at the lunch hosted by William Buck Chartered Accountants and Advisors, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers and Westpac allowing participants to speak freely while providing valuable insights on how the State and Federal Governments can better foster innovation in Health.

The roundtable also provided the opportunity to hear from young innovators in the industry.   The winners of the 2016 Westpac Health Innovation Challenge, Marcus Wilson from Surgical Partners (overall winner) and Emma Poposka from Brontech (People’s Choice) provided insights into their emerging businesses.

Australia has a rich medical research history.   The pacemaker, cervical cancer vaccine and in vitro fertilisation are just some of the medical breakthroughs discovered here.  The challenge lies in translating this research into innovation.

L-R: Geoff Bloom, HWL Ebsworth, The Hon Pru Goward MP, NSW Minister for Medical Research and Assistant Minister for Health, Mark Calvetti, William Buck, Leon Berkovich, Westpac, Harry Cormack, HWL Ebsworth

Australia has one of lowest rates of innovation.  Only nine per cent of SMEs brought a new idea to market in 2012-13, compared to 19% in the top five OECD countries .  One fallout of this is a substantial fall in the commercialisation of health solutions.

At the roundtable, we heard from leaders in the industry who say it is often easier to take an idea to Silicon Valley or Nashville (the US’s heath care capital) than it is to commercialise it in Australia.

So just what is going wrong?

One of the key issues raised was the level of collaboration between industry and medical researchers.   Australia has the lowest rate of collaboration among OECD countries.  In 2013, of those large organisations that are bringing innovative health processes or products to market, only 3.5% had collaborated with higher education or public research institutions. By stark contrast, the collaboration rate in Finland sits at 70%ii.  Part of the problem is that industry participants simply don’t know where to look for medical researchers working in their chosen field.  There is no central conduit to facilitate relations.

Collaboration between large and small enterprise was also brought into question.  Smaller organisations are seeking better guidance and support from the Government in order to commercialise their ideas while protecting their own interests.

The larger players recognise that innovation often lies in their smaller more agile counterparts but have little incentive to take a risk.  Moreover, just as access to medical researchers is difficult, so too is access to smaller, more innovative organisations.  Centralised Health innovation hubs or industry parks would allow industry participants to rub shoulders on a more frequent basis.

The session included a robust discussion around Australia’s legislative and regulatory framework, comparing experiences across different states and territories, and looking at approaches to running the Australian arms of multinational clinical trials.

Australia’s intellectual property and commercialisation outlook also received attention. Participants emphasised their commitment to home grown health innovation, and their desire to attract capital and expertise to foster commercialisation of Australian Intellectual Property within Australia. There was also recognition that collaboration with overseas partners increasingly does have a role to play.

With the diversity of issues raised, it soon became apparent that the roundtable is just the beginning of the discussion.  Pru Goward seemed genuinely grateful to participants for their candid feedback inviting further consultation in the near future.  She also thanked the day’s hosts for facilitating the session.  Participants on the other hand were impressed by the MP’s familiarity with her portfolio together with her openness and willingness to listen.

William Buck, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers and Westpac all have advisory teams in the Health industry.  Their series of boardroom lunches are designed to facilitate learning and advance the interests of their Health clients.

ii. The National Innovation and Science Agenda Report (

ii. OECD Innovation Statistic and Inidcators (

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