Well, welcome everybody to The George Institute. It’s an absolute privilege to be here at not just one of Australia’s, but one of the world’s great medical research institutes and to meet patients such as Lorraine and John.
Today is a day about saving lives and protecting lives, saving lives and protecting lives, and in particular I want to acknowledge people such as Michael Hawker, the chair of The George Institute, Professor Stephen MacMahon, Professor Vlado Perkovic, Bruce, who has such an extraordinary record, I hadn’t realised that you were the first employee of The George, and then Anushka Patel, the chief scientist, Robyn, one of the co-founders, and all of the galaxy of medical researchers here at The George.
Three things come together today, medical research, cardiovascular treatment, and the George Institute.
In terms of medical research, this is a golden age in Australian medical research. We know that we have magnificent medical researchers, whether it’s Elizabeth Blackburn and Fiona Wood and Fiona Stanley, whether it’s people such as Ian Frazer, so many magnificent Australian researchers who are working here and around the world.
In addition to that though, we have right now the National Health and Medical Research Council and its funding, and we’re going through a doubling of medical research funding with the growth of the Medical Research Future Fund.
It goes from $60 million, to $120 million, to $220 million, to $380 million, to $640 million, with its four themes of patients, researchers, national missions, as we saw with the Australian Brain Cancer Mission and research translation.
So against that background, one of our great national challenges is cardiovascular disease. We know that there are 4.2 million Australians who have some form of cardiovascular or circulatory condition, 1.2 million of those are regarded as very serious.
So this is an area of enormous national research in treatment. In terms of treatment, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme allocates over $1.2 billion a year to drugs and medicines that will help treat cardiovascular conditions. On Budget night, we announced the support and funding for ENTRESTO to deal with chronic heart failure at just over half a billion dollars.
It’s the sort of investment which changes and transforms lives. The National Health and Medical Research Council has committed over $1.1 billion to the treatment of cardiac conditions and the research and the understanding since 2007, and that brings me today to the work of the George Institute.
Now, The George is without doubt one of the world’s great medical research institutes. It goes back to when Stephen and Robyn, along with others, co-founded it in 1999.
I think there are 600 employees now, doing projects in 50 countries. There have been $730 million raised through the work of The George and over 7000 research papers, but all of that is put in the shade by the reality of what Lorraine and John and other patients have experienced in terms of real human benefit.
That’s what matters, real human benefit, and whether that’s in cardiovascular or diabetes, kidney disease, injury, so many different fronts, the George has been at the forefront. Today is another day on that journey.
So I am delighted to announce a $24 million research grant to The George Institute to focus on treatment and prevention of cardiovascular conditions.
This is the third largest single grant in the history of the NHMRC. It’s a tribute to the work of the George and it’s a recognition of the importance of cardiovascular disease and the impact that it has, and all of the cardiovascular conditions.
Lives can be improved, as we have seen, through this research, and lives will be improved. So I want to acknowledge and thank all of our medical researchers, but I am delighted that this is the largest cardiovascular grant ever in Australian history. Stephen?
PROFESSOR STEPHEN MACMAHON:
Thank you, Minister. This is a very important day for the George Institute. This grant is going to be transformative in terms of building the work that we do in this country and around the world in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease still kills a lot of people in this country, about 50,000 per year. It’s still the leading cause in premature death in this country, so there’s still a lot to be done to keep Australians healthy and alive for the full duration that’s possible.
That said, Australia’s really done tremendously well in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease in this country.
Compared with the US today, for example, the rates of premature death from heart disease are half those, despite the fact that the US spends twice as much on healthcare.
That said, we still have to continue the fight, and it’s exactly because of people like John and Lorraine that we’ve taken the approach that we do to cardiovascular disease and to research.
Our interest is to have results within five to ten years for people who have cardiovascular disease today, for people who are going to develop cardiovascular disease today, so that we can improve the lives, improve the health of many people who are alive today, as well as their children and their children after that.
So thank you again, Minister, for this tremendous award. We’ll make sure that it’s used for the most important purposes, and that is to inform decisions about policy, decisions about investment in the healthcare of this country. Thank you.
PROFESSOR BRUCE NEAL:
Thanks very much, Minister, for the announcement today. It really is tremendous. I’m here on behalf of a group of 10 sensational cardiovascular researchers to whom this money is going.
A big part of this award is the fact that it enables us to work together as a truly multidisciplinary team. So we have cardiologists, neurologists, nephrologists, but also health economists and people who know about policy and understand the practicalities of trying to make things happen in Australia, and indeed, around the world.
Some of the projects that we will do will build on prior work that we’ve done in the field of stroke. We expect to deliver new findings that will identify better ways of treating people with stroke, preventing people from having stroke.
We also have a very strong program in kidney disease. This is a huge growing problem here in Australia and around the world.
We’ve just reported some very exciting results about a new treatment for diabetes, and we will extend that work over the course of the program to define the effects of this new intervention on chronic kidney disease, as well as the risks of stroke and heart attack.
And again, coming back to patients like John and Lorraine, they have multiple problems that need dealing with, and a big part of this program is about not just picking off one or the other, but how do we do that in an integrated way that really benefits patients to the maximum.
So we expect, over the course of this program, to make discoveries that will change the lives of literally millions of Australians and of hundreds of millions of people worldwide in just a few years’ time.
To finish, Stephen mentioned the US. I was in the US last week and it was incredibly gratifying to see a big presentation and a major meeting about new blood pressure guidelines that will impact 100 million Americans, and our research was up there not once, not twice, but three times defining how those patients can be managed.
So we really do have capacity to make a change on a global basis, and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do that.
Happy to take any questions on the NHMRC grant and any other issues after that.
So what’s the importance, what’s the significance of this grant?
Today is about saving lives and protecting lives. We know that there are 4.2 million people in Australia with some form of cardiovascular disease or condition. This investment is about giving them hope and giving them a future.
So you were talking about one of the greatest challenges in Australia?
Cardiovascular disease is one of the great issues for Australia, with over 4 million Australians who have to manage some form of cardio or vascular illness. It’s a huge challenge. It’s a fact of lifestyle and of aging, we live longer, but we need to live better.
So again, this is the largest cardiovascular grant ever in Australian history?
This is the largest cardiovascular grant in Australian history. It’s the third largest grant in the history of the National Health and Medical Research Council, and that’s because The George is right at the top of the global tree and this issue is right at the top of the list of our most important national health conditions.