Joint Go8 – AAMRI submission

17 Oct 2018
Joint Go8 – AAMRI submission to the consultation to inform the second Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities 2018 - 2020  Introduction 

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) represents an enormous opportunity for the Health and Medical Research (HMR) sector and for the health and wellbeing of the entire nation. It is a game changer. At full capitalisation of $20 billion the earnings of the MRFF that will be used to fund HMR will effectively double the Federal Government investment through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). It should also be noted the MRFF is funded from savings in the health portfolio and so there is a responsibility on researchers to deliver health returns through the MRFF to the Australian community. 

Now is a critical juncture in the development of the MRFF. After two rounds of disbursements the MRFF has passed its “shovel ready” projects phase and there have been announcements of major long-term research missions and projects such as the Genomics Health Futures Mission, the Million Minds Health Mission and the Frontier Health and Medical Research program. Funding through the MRFF is also increasing significantly, budgeted to be $222 million in 2018-19 and to reach $650 million in 2020-21.

As such, the Go8 and AAMRI would like to take this opportunity to commend the Minister for Health, the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board, and the Office of Health and Medical Research in the Department of Health for their achievement in developing this significant research fund from scratch to fully operational in such a short period of time.

It is particularly encouraging that to date 91% of the funding disbursements from the MRFF have been contestable – which is necessary to support the highest quality research.

In such a challenging context the Go8 and AAMRI - who together undertake the majority of discovery Health and Medical Research including approximately 83% of NHMRC funding announced in 2017 – believe that a more consolidated approach to feedback from the medical research sector will be the most effective way to communicate feedback on the MRFF.

Our aim through this submission is to provide frank and constructive feedback on the MRFF – noting that the research Priorities are inextricably linked to the overall design and operation of the MRFF. 
Executive Summary 
The Go8 and AAMRI have been engaging in discussions on the MRFF over the last year. These discussions identified the following issues of focus    • Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities; • Genomics Health Futures Mission; • MRFF missions more broadly; and • Administration and governance of the MRFF.    On 24 August 2018 the Go8 and AAMRI conducted a joint forum involving the Go8 Chair, Go8 Deputy Vice Chancellors Research, Go8 Deans of Medical Faculties, Medical Research Institute Directors and expert researchers. The forum addressed these four areas of the MRFF and generated the following recommendations. 

Recommendations Priorities 

1. Priorities should explicitly drive MRFF decision making and funding decisions should be clearly referenced against applicable priorities at the point of announcement of decisions.
2. Where possible, Priorities based MRFF decisions should be linked directly to the principles in the MRFF Act, with particular emphasis on how the particular Priorities address: 
• The burden of disease on the Australian community (which includes addressing burden of disease on specific communities, as well as on the broader population); and
• Deliver practical benefits from medical research and medical innovation to as many Australians as possible.

3. Priorities should be coordinated to facilitate a cohesive portfolio of funding decisions.

4. The total number of Priorities should be reduced for 2018-2020 to allow significant funding of all Priorities.  This should be accomplished by a balance of continuing/merging existing Priorities, discontinuing completed Priorities and including new Priorities as appropriate.

5. There should be four core areas that are reflected in each round of Priorities including
a) Data analysis and management;
b) Clinical trials infrastructure;
c) Support for clinical researchers as part of a clinical research workforce strategy; and 
d) Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres (AHRTCs).

6. Priorities should be selected to facilitate an appropriate balance of funding disbursement across the Strategic Platforms. In this regard we note that in the current tranche of funding the areas of Data and Informatics have received less attention than may be warranted given their critical role in medicine and public health going forward.

7. There should be a national summit on commercialisation to better coordinate programs relevant to the Commercialisation strategic platform of the MRFF. Genomics Health Futures Mission 
  8. All projects under the Mission should focus on genomics but there should also be an emphasis on integrating other “omics” including pathogenomics, proteomics and metabolomics. This is with a view to maintaining Mission flexibility as research and technology develop over the 10-year course of the Mission.

9. Large-scale data analysis and management capacity should be a core part of the Mission. 

10. The governance structure for the Mission must include the ability to accept non-government sources of funding.  General principles for MRFF Missions 

11. There be a single approach to national missions under the MRFF including                                                                           a) Selection of national missions;
b) Mission development and governance;
c) Calls for funding under the mission; and 
d) Evaluation of mission performance.

12. The interaction and overlap between national missions and the Priorities be clarified, in particular the degree to which researchers working in mission theme areas will be able to access other MRFF funding streams.

13. The majority of projects under missions have duration of at least three years in order to provide time to deliver meaningful results.

14. Missions must leave a long-term legacy of capacity in research and clinical trials infrastructure as a competitive advantage for Australia. 

Administration of the MRFF 

15. It is important for the success of the MRFF that the health and medical research sector has the same level of confidence in the MRFF as it does in the NHMRC – and this will only be achieved through simplicity, transparency and constancy over time.
16. The Government create a more powerful Australia Medical Research Advisory Board (AMRAB) as the peak governance body for the MRFF with
a) an expanded membership with increased health and medical research and health care delivery experience;
b) ex-officio representation of the Chair on the NHMRC Council;
c) Specialist subcommittees where required; and
d) a funded secretariat to service AMRAB and subcommittees.

17. The Office of Health and Medical Research
a) Have a dedicated funding stream within the Department of Health; and
b) Be resourced appropriately to act as the executive of the MRFF when it reaches its full annual disbursement level of up to $1 billion per year.

18. In collaboration with the sector MRFF communications are improved by:
a) The design and implementation of a sector communications plan;
 b) The development of the MRFF website to be a “single source of wisdom” on the MRFF using the NHMRC website as a model where possible;
c) Irrespective of the grant administering body, all MRFF grant opportunities should be advertised for a minimum of eight weeks using the Grant Connect website with a minimum notice period leading up to this of four weeks;
d) Irrespective of the grant administering body, the criteria by which funding applications are assessed should be clear and transparent;
e) When funding opportunities are advertised a timeframe for making decisions should be stated, and the decisions must be published on the “single source” within a specified period;
f) As far as possible, grant funding opportunities should avoid clashes with the major ARC/NHMRC programs; and
g) An easily-searchable MRFF funding outcome register similar to that published by the NHMRC should be developed for the MRFF.