Opinion article

Harnessing the buzz for Australia’s future

MTPConnect Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Sue MacLeman discusses innovation and collaboration in the medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

Innovation. Disruption. Collaboration. Scalability. Agents of change.

I have just listed some of the most commonly used (some would say overused) buzzwords in the current lexicon. But the hype surrounding these words isn’t without reason. Australia is in an important time of growth and change, and innovation across all sectors is at the forefront.
The astounding and constantly evolving use of modern technology never ceases to amaze. And the current acknowledgement and support of its importance means that we are entering a truly exciting time that is allowing us to make an incredible difference.

The medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical (MTP) sector is an increasingly important and growing sector globally. Within Australia alone, it supports 48,000 jobs; utilises over $1.4 billion of public and industry spending on research and development; encompasses over 50 pharma, 400 biotech and 500 medtech companies, more than 100 of which are ASX listed; has $4 billion in manufacturing exports; and is worth over $4.4 billion gross value added.

We are doing a lot right – the work and achievements of the Australian MTP sector are making a difference to the lives of all Australians in so many ways, from employment and research, though to enhancing and protecting life. But we need to be better at celebrating and communicating our successes, and there is still more we can achieve. Given the long timelines and cost of product development and commercialisation in our sector, policy frameworks really matter and it is important to have aligned, globally competitive and relevant policy initiatives.

Collaboration is an area that it lacking in many sectors in Australia. A study by ACOLA released in November 2015 – Translating research for economic and social benefit – Country comparisons – reviewed measures in 15 countries, including Australia, to encourage and facilitate research translation and application, as well as collaboration between researchers, businesses and other organisations.
Public sector research engagement and translation in Australia is low by OECD standards, even though Australian government funding for public sector research is slightly above the OECD country average. Two major factors in this are low collaboration between public sector researchers and business, and a lack of demand on the part of business and industry who are not engaging with research.

Yes, innovation and collaboration are buzzwords, but in Australia we clearly need to put more stock into them because if we don’t we will falter. We need to understand the importance of and invest more in translational research and commercialisation.

The Federal Government has responded to this gap, and has acknowledged the immense potential that we have for growth here in Australia, in six sectors in particular; advanced manufacturing, cyber security, food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; and medical technologies and pharmaceuticals.

The Medical Technologies and Innovation Industry Growth Centre, MTPConnect, was formed in November 2015 as part of the Federal Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science $250 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative.

We are an independent, not-for-profit organisation, distinct from government, that is championing a sector-led approach to accelerate and boost the growth of the medtech, biotech and pharmaceutical ecosystem in Australia. I, along with a dedicated and highly experienced team – with the weight of the sector behind us – have been charged with making change happen.

We exist to advise and advocate. To promote greater collaboration, alignment and engagement. To drive innovation, productivity and competition (here are those important buzzwords yet again) – to establish Australia as an Asia-Pacific hub for MTP companies, and drive innovation so that we can continue to be a world-leader in our field.

Through consultation with the sector, each of the growth centres has developed a 10-Year Sector Competitiveness Plan, outlining a vision and the strategy to drive change through four key objectives:
1. To improve coordination and collaboration, encouraging commercialisation;
2. To improve the management and workforce skills essential to growth;
3. To identify opportunities to address “red tape” restricting the sector; and
4. To improve the sector’s ability to engage with and access international markets.

Each of the growth centres are working closely with CSIRO in development of targeted “Roadmaps” that are complementing our Sector Competitiveness Plans to provide targeted strategies to create sustainable growth.

Our dollar-for-dollar matched, industry-led, $15.6 million Project Fund Program has already attracted an outstanding number of innovative, truly collaborative world-class and nationally focused projects, addressing identified sector growth priorities.

These include:
  • The Bridge Program – a consortium of 14 companies, universities and industry associations that aims to transfer practical skills on pharmaceutical commercialisation through online and residential training, with direct exposure to industry practitioners;
  • Development of a national Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) program, linking PhD students with qualified industry mentors to narrow the cultural gap between business and academia; and
  • The Actuator – a National MedTech Accelerator to create dedicated commercialisation infrastructure to leverage Australia's industry and research capabilities in the acceleration of new high-value, niche advanced manufacturing and medical device technology development.

These big bold ideas creatively address the MTP barriers to growth in Australia through improving our productivity, competitiveness and innovative capacity, and each year we will be looking for more exciting new projects to fund.

Collaboration by all stakeholders in each sector – including universities, research institutes, industry associations, small to large companies, government, investors, service providers, and the growth centres ourselves – is essential to achieve the rapid and sustained growth that we as a country need. Only together, can we achieve this lasting and impactful change.

Through better, more productive commercialisation; targeted, innovative support for small to medium enterprises; support along the value chain with fewer barriers to entry; and a more attractive clinical trial proposition; together we will revolutionise the MTP sector as we know it.
All of us have our part to play. Let’s harness the buzzwords, connect and collaborate, start conversations, and break down the silos – to drive our future.


In this blog Sue discusses issues raised in the State of Nation panel session, Innovation and collaboration: what matters and what can be done? Watch the panel below. 

About the authors

Sue MacLeman

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Sue MacLeman, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, MTPConnect

MTPConnect is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to accelerate the rate of growth of the medical technologies, biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals sector in Australia, formed as part of the Federal Government’s $250 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative.

Sue has more than 25 years experience as a pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical technology executive with roles in corporate, medical, commercial and business development at Schering-Plough Corporation (now Merck), Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Mesoblast Ltd.

Sue has also served as CEO and Board member of several ASX and NASDAQ listed companies in the sector and is currently a non-executive director at Reproductive Health Sciences Ltd and Oventus Medical Ltd.

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