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Doorstop in Sydney

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's Doorstop in Sydney regarding $220 million for research to tackle heart disease and stroke.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Introducing Minister Hunt here to make a major announcement that I think will be really relevant to our future, so thank you very much.


Great. Look, thanks very much to Professor Gemma Figtree, one of Australia’s leading interventional cardiologists; some of the other incredible staff we’ve met here at Royal North Shore, really not just one of Australia’s but one of the world’s great medical research and hospital institutions.

I particularly want to acknowledge, whether it is Professor Nelson, Professor Bhindi, the leaders in the cardiac space such as John Kelly from the Heart Foundation, representatives from Victor Chang and the other philanthropic organisations.

And then to talk with our patients – we have Keith and Sarah, and in another world, in another place, Keith and Sarah might have had very different outcomes.

But because they were able to get expert care at the right time, with the right people, they’re living full, rich lives.

And in a way, today is about Keith and Sara, their families, but the families of 100,000 Australians every year who have some form of heart attack or stroke.

That's an incident every five minutes. We know that in fact there are 43,500 Australians who are likely to have a fatal heart attack this year.

That's a life lost every 12 minutes. And the point is whilst we help lead the world through amazing medical researchers and clinicians such as Gemma, we can do better.

This is the moment in history when more lives can be saved through more investment and more activity.

We have the combination of the scientists, the equipment, but above all else, we have the infrastructure and the national system.

All of these things come together. So against that background, over recent years, we've been very fortunate to be able to invest since 2013 over $660 million in fundamental cardiac research through the National Health Medical Research Council and more than $180 million in stroke research through the NHMRC.

But right now is where we build on that with the translation - this is what Gemma was talking about. Through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we've been able to invest more than $7.7 billion.

But what I want to look towards is the future. One of the privileges I've had is being able to work with the medical community in designing and implementing the Medical Research Future Fund.

This is about taking the discoveries, as Carmel said to me – Carmel who is the patient we visited who was in her bed, who had a kidney transplant, and was preparing for a coronary bypass this week and she was in remarkable spirits – and she said: medical research, at its best, is about going from (inaudible) to bedside, from the lab to the lounge.

And her life is an example of that. And so, under the Medical Research Future Fund, we've been able to invest in clinical trials, in frontier science, in translation with a $125 million cardiovascular and diabetes rare disease and research focus.

But today, I want to add to those missions which we've established on behalf of Australia in areas such as genomics, the Million Minds Mental Health Mission, the work that we're doing in particular with Parkinson's and dementia, and I am delighted to announce that the Australian Government will invest $220 million in the first ever national Cardiovascular Mission.

This mission will focus on a series of areas. In particular, it will focus on better diagnosis, better treatment, the potential for cure, but above all else, on prevention as the best medicine for heart disease.

Now, we have amazing patients who have been through journeys – and both Sarah and Keith have their stories to tell – but this is about making sure that we have more Sarahs and more Keiths, people who are able to survive the conditions they have and then to thrive afterwards and as far as possible, as far as humanly possible, to prevent.

I’m also delighted to announce that the foundation chair of the Australian Cardiovascular Mission will be Professor Gemma Figtree. Along the way, she happens to have picked up a Rhodes scholarship and a DPhil from Oxford.

She is a professor at the University of Sydney but perhaps most importantly, she’s a practising interventional cardiologist here at Royal North Shore.

So today is about saving lives and protecting lives.

It comes on top of the corporative work we’ve had with the Heart Foundation and the listing of a new heart check on the Medicare Benefits Scheme from 1 April – I think a very important step forward – and the announcement on the weekend of a $35 million investment in rheumatic heart disease and the push to find a vaccine, which will make such a difference to Indigenous Australia.

The last thing that I want to mention is it’s a $220 million mission. The first $20 million we have allocated to the HeartKids Project – a competitive grant for dealing with the 2500 beautiful kids who are born every year with congenital heart disorders and looking at the identification, the treatment, the early intervention, the factors we can control.

And that will be distributed through a competitive grants round and then Gemma and her team will put together the structures for the flagships and the priorities under this mission and then the funding will be determined through a series of competitive grants rounds over the coming years.

But it’s a 10-year mission which gives longevity and certainty. We hope that along with the Heart Foundation and the states and others will be able to double the value of the Commonwealth’s $220 million.

I want to thank everybody; so many of you here today have fought for this; you’ve worked for this and Gemma over to you.


Wow. I think we brought a smile to a lot of faces today and I can see patients here, I can see researchers here and they’re from all over the country.

What you've announced has massive impacts on all of our lives and thank you.

I think hopefully this is a platform just to really build on into the future. The Australian Cardiovascular Alliance has only been in existence for three years; we’ve got some founding board members here.

Jaye Chin-Dusting actually couldn’t be here but it was really her original idea and that was how do we bring together our bench researchers, our clinicians and our importation and policy researchers and come up with a strategy right across that pipeline, right across the country that maximises the fantastic talent we've got in our researchers and impacts on the health of our patients that we see here today.

We have begun to make some progress in all of that already and I think this is going to be a terrific – really a terrific platform to go forward from here.

I think what is a mission? A mission really is something that has ambition, leadership and strategy and I think that's exactly what we're going to be doing with your mission and I think that in terms of all of the important aspects of the MRFF goals, obviously burden of disease goes without saying.

And I think importantly we believe that within the next five years, we're going to be able to make a big difference in reducing- early detection of disease, better prevention and better treatment.

And we want all Australians to have that best treatment and I think that's something that working across that pipeline will achieve.

So thank you very much for investing in cardiovascular research in this country; I think you'll see great results and thanks everybody for coming along. Keith, do you want to say anything, or are you?


Tell us your story.


Yeah. So I was 34 at that time; didn't have any of the risk factors - I thought I was bulletproof.

When I had my heart attack, I was out on the bike at the time and yeah, I had pain on my glands, on my sides – some of the side effects I expected from having a heart attack and I arrived here a few hours later, I met this wonderful lady who her and her team to put me back together and I'm very grateful to be here to share that story.


Wearing his angiogram on the front (inaudible).


This is the first official angiogram t-shirt in the country.

You know, obviously Sarah and I have been incredibly lucky; we’re some of the lucky ones. This investment hopefully would be many more like us going forward.






Look, this is certainly a life changing today for myself and for thousands and hundreds of thousands of Australian heart attack survivors.

People who live a restricted life because they have the chance of recurrence hanging over their head; the people who don't have traditional risk factors like I just said and for the people for whom research such as Professor Bob is doing at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are just changing lives every day and giving us hope for the future.


Alright. Well said. We’re happy to take questions on the mission and then any other issues of the day.


Minister, how much do we not know about cardiovascular health and what causes a heart attack? Will this mission help, you know, solve some of those mysteries?


Yes, it will. I mean we know an immense amount and the progress that we've made over the last two decades has arguably rivalled what we've learnt and developed over the last two centuries.

But in the next decade, we can surpass all of that. Gemma?


Look, I think it's been, I mean, almost 50 years since we've really understood the community risk factors that drive a heart attack but we're still actually not very good at even fixing those in the community.

I mean a large percentage of people that actually have identified risk factors and not getting appropriate treatment.

Having said that, there's also incredible variability in people's susceptibility and resilience to those same factors.

And one of the things that the new technology platforms will allow us to do is to use the clever basic scientists around as well as those platforms and improvements in bioinformatics to basically discover completely new pathways that will help us with new diagnostics and new therapeutics, and Australia is very well positioned to contribute to that.


Gemma, do we know why, you know, seemingly healthy people end up being struck by a heart attack?


Look, I think as is exemplified here, it is very- it’s difficult to pick and I think we would love to be able to pick disease much earlier because we know it just doesn't happen overnight, obviously.

But that's exactly the question that we're hoping to answer.

We know in the last 12 to 24 months, we've seen a lot more evidence come out around inflammation of the blood vessel; we've known about that for quite some time but now we've seen that it can be therapeutically targeted.

I think that's just the icing, you know, the tip of the iceberg. I think we will be able to make- answer your question a lot better in five years’ time.


Alright, thank you very much.


Thank you.


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