DR MASHA SOMI:
Thank you for joining the second MRFF Quarterly Webinar. I'm really pleased today to be joined today, by the Chair and Deputy Chair of our Board. Professor Ian Frazer and Professor Caroline Homer. They will be presenting on the process to update the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy and Priorities, and also on the outcomes of that process.
Before we move on to the presentation, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians on the lands on which we are meeting right around the country. I'm joining from Ngunnawal country. I pay my respects to Elders past and present and also to those emerging, and I extend that acknowledgement to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues who are joining us today.
Here are the topics that will be covered today. After Caroline's update I will work through the updates on the MRFF and also on the Missions. We'll present for about 30 to 35 minutes and then move to a Q&A format.
Please send through your questions through the chat function. Just a reminder that the webinar will be recorded and made available on the MRFF website. I'll now hand over to Professor Caroline Homer, who is our Deputy Chair of AMRAB.
PROFESSOR CAROLINE HOMER:
Great. Thank you so much Masha and a huge welcome to everybody. Thank you for joining us this afternoon, or this morning still in my part of the world. I'm joining you from Boon Wurrung, land of the Kulin nation here in Melbourne. So I'm going to take you through the next few slides, which essentially it's about the process we've just gone through to develop the Strategy and the Priorities.
And I encourage you to look on our website on the MRFF website, all the documents that we're referring to today will all be there. So as part of our legislative requirements, we conducted a public consultation to develop a Strategy for the next five years, so up to 2026 and the related Priorities. And this is really important to be able to conceptualise and articulate the role and contributions of MRFF.
You'll know that this is our second five-year time of the MRFF being in process and so it's a really opportune moment to reflect on the Strategy and the Priorities going forward. It's really important that the updated Strategy meets the purpose as described in the Act, that it's fit for purpose for current processes, that enables MRFF to fund research that will address national health priorities and we'll come to those at the end, the draft ones.
And obviously, we need practical benefits for people living in Australia and in the region around the work that we're doing here at MRFF and being funded. So it's really important work, that's been going on and thank you all of you for contributing in many different ways. We opened a consultation process in late September and closed in mid-October.
We had a public webinar, some of you may have been there, 200-odd people turned up which was fantastic, we had some great questions. We had a virtual roundtable with a number of key stakeholders and we had online written submissions and thank you to all of you who contributed, we had more than 200 submissions and Ian and I have read through them all and they've also been read and synthesised, of course, by the office of Health and Medical Research (BELL SOUNDS)
We have a consultation report that has been developed. So the Strategy is shorter than the last one, we tried to do the Strategy to a page and so hopefully you've managed to find this on the website and can see the aim, which has been slightly altered from the previous Strategy and then we have a vision, the context and the strategic objectives.
I think the context is really important, MRFF operates within this broader context of Australian government support for health and medical research, which includes NHMRC and the Biomedical Translation Fund. So it's part of this big picture, it's not just the only piece, of course. And we are working really closely with NHMRC to ensure that we are complementary, that we are aligned and that we don't duplicate effort.
These are the strategic objectives of the MRFF in our new Strategy and they're really important, I think, to remember the importance of equity, ensuring equitable health outcomes, the critical importance of health and economic benefits from transformative and innovative research, through translation of outcomes into policy and practice and commercialisation of new diagnostics, therapeutic and preventive health interventions.
So this translational perspective that MRFF has is really important. We also are committed to deliver a sustainable health and medical research workforce with expertise in research translation, innovation and commercialisation.
And of course, working closely with NHMRC, who also have a strong commitment and agenda to develop the health and medical research workforce. We also know that we have to have a research sector and system that can respond to emerging and future challenges. And I think the challenges we have seen over the last 22 months, are great testament to how the health sector can pivot and can deliver and we need to make sure that's strong for the future.
These are the guiding principles to support the Strategy. The research through MRFF will address new and emerging areas of need, existing areas of unmet health need, improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system. We're committed to social, environmental and cultural factors that affect health and wellbeing, enhancements to the translation of research outputs to deliver impact and this piece about translation and impact is really central to the MRFF.
The promotion of capacity and capability in the health and medical research workforce and encouragement of adaptive approaches to emerging challenges. So these are our principles that drop out of the Strategy.
So we've also been developing the Priorities alongside the Strategy and thank you to all of you who contributed to this important piece of work. The draft were published only a week or so ago on the website and you can have a look at those Priorities. We developed them concurrently with the Strategy obviously and Masha is going to talk a little bit more about the 10-year investment plan in a moment.
The Priorities will come into force following the passage of the Investment Funds Legislation Amendment Bill, which means once that happens the previous Priorities will cease to have effect. And we're hoping that these will go through this year, but they may go through next year as well. But we're working on these draft Priorities as you will see here.
So some of them are the same as the last Priorities, with a little bit of fine tuning I have to say and some are a little bit different. So, a very broad range of priorities, I think you will agree.
Some of the emphasis this time, we were given a lot of consultation about the importance of preventive health, the importance of priority populations, obviously a central commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and then some newer areas around environmental factors and further emphasising data, digital health and artificial intelligence.
And obviously, these are all underpinned by actually having a health and medical researcher, capability and capacity. So I encourage you to have a look at the text on the website that goes through each one of these in a bit more detail. Masha, I'll hand over to you now. Oh, am I doing this one? I think, sorry. One more slide.
So this year we will, next year we will also be consulting with the sector on a number of issues, especially consumer and clinician involvement in research, the health workforce development piece which is really critical and research quality. And so you will probably hear from us over the 2022 and you may be invited to attend online, or other consultations at the same time.
We're also working AMRAB, the advisory board will also be working with the Health and Medical Research Office, to assist with the delivery of the programs, addressing the Strategy and programs and Masha will go through these a little bit more. AMRAB and NHMRC are working really closely together. I'm the Deputy Chair of AMRAB and I'm also now the Chair of the NHMRC Council, so we're making sure we have those relationships strong.
Ian is on the NHMRC Council to further strengthen that and Anne Kelso, the CEO of NHMRC is on AMRAB. So you can see we're really trying to make sure that we work together to consider alignment and complementarity and the engagement with the research community. So I'll get it right this time and I'll hand over to Masha. Thanks everybody.
DR MASHA SOMI:
Thank you very much Caroline. So from an implementation perspective, the MRFF 10-year investment plan is the mechanism for delivering the Strategy and the Priorities. You'll see that there's clear alignment between the initiatives in the 10-year plan, with the Priorities that Caroline just talked through.
So, for example, in both documents we have consumer driven research, translation and commercialisation, primary health care, infrastructure, Indigenous health and priority populations. The 10-year plan also aligns with the vision and aim of the Strategy and is well-placed to deliver on the four strategic objectives that it sets out.
Our program and implementation arrangements already align with the guiding principles that have been identified in the Strategy.
So I'll quickly talk through the steps that we take in the Health and Medical Research Office, to implement the Strategy and Priorities. The first is that we develop opportunities for funding that address the Priorities and that's with AMRAB's advice. So what that looks like externally is grant opportunities that are set out through guidelines.
We commission proposals for funding through our grant hubs, the NHMRC and Business Grants Hub using those guidelines and then those applications are evaluated for funding using independent Grant Assessment Committees, which usually will have an international, at least one international representative.
So that's a standard across the MRFF, however we promote that even further with our Missions and try to have more than one international reviewer on the Grant Assessment Committee. We then approve proposals for funding and that's based on the independent assessments of those Grant Assessment Committees.
That approval process is done within the Department of Health, the Minister delegated the commitment approval, the financial approvals to the Department quite a long time ago and it's certainly been that way in the time that I've been here, and those delegations sit with myself and my supervisors.
Once the decisions have been made on the grants, advice is provided to the Minister and that's for the purpose of enabling the announcements to be made through media releases and other promotional activities. Within the Health and Medical Research Office, we're carefully monitoring or looking at all of the funded applications and that's to monitor progress and risk, and we do that through our regular annual review process.
We also review the outputs of funded applications and that's in alignment with our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Strategy, that's really to try to make sure that we understand the outcomes of the research that we funded and the impact that's been made. Finally, we report on the Strategy and Priorities to AMRAB, to government and to parliament.
So, many of you will have seen the report on the 2018 to 2020 Priorities and the investments that the MRFF had made against those and that report was published earlier this year. So I'll now provide a program update on the MRFF, I'll give some information about implementation arrangements since inception and then I'll do a little bit of a more detailed look at the 2020-21 financial year, and that's our most recently completed financial year.
So overall since the MRFF's inception, we've awarded 681 grants valued at $1.8 billion. On the left, the slide show that we've worked our way to fully dispersing all available MRFF funds and that's shown by the fact that the blue parts of those charts have overtaken the grey parts. And so for the last two years we've allocated 100% of our allocation.
On the right side, you can see that the 10-year plan has fully committed all the available disbursements, which is the light blue parts of the bar, up until the current financial year which is the 2021-22 financial year and that there are funds available in future financial year for allocations of priorities that may arise in the future.
This slide gives some information on, or about grant recipients or grant organisations, the map on the left shows the number and value of MRFF grants in each state and territory and that's based on the location of the lead organisation. We know, however, that many grants are collaborations and that the map doesn't necessarily reflect where those funds have ended up.
On the right you can see that there's been 48 grants valued at almost $290 million and they've been either provided to organisations in rural, regional or remote areas, or focused on health in rural, regional and remote areas. And finally, you can see that the majority of MRFF funding has been provided to universities at just over $1.1 billion, followed by corporations and then Medical Research Institutes.
So this quite complicated slide shows where the 681 grants and the $1.8 billion falls within the framework of the four MRFF themes and also the 20 MRFF initiatives.
So you can see across the top the themes, the four themes, that the most funding so far has been awarded through the translation theme with 42% of the $1.5 billion available provided in grants already. There's also a breakdown of grants and their value by initiative.
So the initiatives with the highest number of grants awarded include, the clinical trials activity initiative, clinician researchers, emerging priorities and consumer driven research. And the initiatives with the highest levels of funding disbursed are the Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research initiative, Clinical Trials, Frontiers followed by Genomics.
So I'll run through the four themes now and talk through some of the highlights in each of the four themes, so starting with Patients. So a key focus of the Patient theme is clinical trials and across the MRFF there have been 250 grants awarded that included clinical trials and they are valued at over $650 million.
There's also been a significant investment in COVID-19 research, with $96 million already disbursed through the MRFF for research focused on COVID-19. It featured a couple of projects here that have been funded through the Patient theme, the first is the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, which will over time offer all children diagnosed with cancer, access to genomic sequencing of their cancers in order to support personalised treatment. And on the right we've just showcased the clinical trials for merkel cell carcinoma and that's a very aggressive form of skin cancer.
We have eight Research Missions which are grouped into three categories, the first group are the new technologies and therapies and that includes our Genomics Health Futures Mission and our Stem Cell Therapies Mission.
The second group tackle chronic conditions such as mental health and cardiovascular health, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, and the third group address neurology and ageing and that's the Dementia Ageing and Aged Care Mission and the Australian Brain Cancer Mission.
So I've got two examples provided, one that focuses on harnessing genomics and artificial intelligence to address antimicrobial resistance and the other is a group of three projects that have been funded through the Australian Brain Cancer Mission, that look at the survivorship experience of the people, patients and their families. Patients with brain cancer and their families and really looking to improve the arrangements to support them.
The Translation theme is focused on supporting implementation of research outcomes, through grants to support commercialisation of promising discoveries and grants to support the development and enhancement of infrastructure, as part of addressing research priorities. There's also a focus in this theme on primary health care and preventive health investment as well.
The two examples provided here on the left is the McMonty Medihood and that's a product that was fast tracked into clinical practice and it's a hood to protect clinicians in hospital settings from patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. And the second example is demonstrating that the MRFF funding is contributing to the broader MTP sector in Australia.
The Researchers theme is focused on supporting Australia's world class researchers, including supporting the development of the cohort of clinician researchers, supporting academics to broaden their skillset through industry placements and supporting implementation of interventions that have potential to impact health care and outcomes.
And the two examples provided here, the project on the left is a successful Frontier's project arising from the first cohort and it's a new lung health diagnostic tool, and the project on the right is a clinician researcher's project that's focused on the prevention of suicide.
So I'll now move on to a specific, like a focus on the 2020-21 financial year. So you can see that in 2021 we opened 36 grant opportunities valued at over $810 million and all of the grant opportunities that opened in that financial year were competitive.
We executed 230 grant agreements valued at almost $590 million and the discrepancy in overall value is due to the fact that some of the grant opportunities that opened in that financial year, weren't resolved by 30 June and the grant agreements arising from those have been executed subsequently, or are still under assessment.
So of the $590 million, this slide shows how they've been spread across the four themes. So the Missions have the greatest number of grants that were awarded in that financial year, followed by Patients and the Research Translation theme and the Research Translation theme had the highest value of grants awarded, followed by the Missions and Researchers.
In the 2021 financial year there were 81 grants that included a clinical trial that were awarded and the total value of the grants was $169 million.
So looking more closely within the Missions, there were 87 grants valued at almost $170 million that were awarded in that financial year, the majority of these were in the Genomics Health Futures Mission, with 21 grants valued at $73.5 million and this was followed by Stem Cell Therapies and the Cardiovascular Health Missions, which each had 17 and 16 grants respectively.
The Million Minds Mission had the second level, second highest level of investment in that financial year at $27.1 million.
So I'll now provide an update on the eight MRFF Missions. As a reminder, the Missions are large programs of work, designed to drive targeted improvements in an area of unmet need or with transformational potential.
They are designed to bring relevant parts of the sector together, by setting an agenda and supporting its implementation through MRFF funding and with leveraged funding as well.
So the Minister for Health approved a Mission governance framework in late 2019, and it sets out the roles and responsibilities of the ministerially appointed Expert Advisory Panels that support the Missions. The panels were to establish a Roadmap and Implementation Plan, to set the strategic direction for each Mission and also the research investments that are required to meet the Mission's goal and vision.
For six of the Missions we've been through a comprehensive process over the last 18 to 24 months, to establish their Roadmap and Implementation Plans. In addition to them being developed by an expert panel, these documents were the subject of a review by an international panel of experts and also a comprehensive national consultation.
The Roadmaps and Implementation Plans for five of the Missions are on the MRFF website and you can also find the document summarising the outcomes of the international reviews, and also the national consultations on the website also. We're expecting to finalise the Roadmap and Implementation Plan for the Indigenous Health Research Fund shortly.
So the Implementation plan for the Mission set out the investment strategy and the health and medical research office will be using the Implementation Plans to develop grant opportunities for these Missions over the next few years. This table shows the 2021-22 Mission grant opportunities that are currently open.
I'll talk about GBM AGILE in a minute, however, just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that, all of the other grant opportunities in that table, reflect the early to mid-term priorities that have been set out for the Missions in the Implementation Plan document.
You'll also find on our website an attachment to each Implementation Plan and that sets out the grants that have been awarded in each Mission and the investment priority that they address, specifically so that you will know which grant relates to which investment priority as set out through the documentation. And we'll be updating that investment plan or investment outcomes document attachment each year.
The Brain Cancer Mission was the first to be announced and funded and today $135 million has been allocated through the MRFF and also by funding partners. There’s a Strategic Advisory Group for the Mission and they established a Roadmap and that Roadmap has been used to identify funding opportunities through the Mission.
One of the identified priorities was to bring GBM AGILE to Australia and we currently have a grant opportunity to do so, open through the NHMRC. Through that grant opportunity up to $15 million will be made available from a partnership that includes the MRFF, the Minderoo Foundation and the Cure for Brain Cancer Foundation. So this is just an example of the leveraging ability of being able to bring the MRFF and funding partners together to deliver a research program.
Our second Mission was the Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission and so far $65 million of the $125 million that was originally allocated, has been disbursed through 18 research projects. Investments were allocated based on the advice of an Expert Advisory Panel that was co-chaired by Professor Shitij Kapur and Professor Helen Milroy. And again, this advice was documented in a Roadmap that's publicly available.
There is currently a review of the Million Minds Mission in train it's being led by the University of Technology, Sydney. It includes a desktop review, a stakeholder consultation and an international scan. The review's being supported by a panel of independent experts, national and international and that panel is being chaired by the Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine.
The report from the review will be provided to a newly appointed second Million Minds Mental Health Expert Advisory Panel in early 2022. We're currently calling for expressions of interest from the mental health research community, includes researchers, clinicians, service providers and consumers, and that's to support the establishment of the second Expert Advisory Panel.
I'll quickly now go through some program updates, I'll talk about them briefly because the information for all of these is available on the MRFF website.
Many of you will know we've recently been through an ANAO performance audit, the audit was tabled in Parliament in early September. You'll find the actual audit report on the ANAO website and we've also developed and published a resource on our website that summarises the findings from the ANAO report and also our response to them.
We've also been working with the Department of Finance on some amendments to the MRFF Act, including setting disbursements at $650 million per annum and providing some certainty to the sector. These amendments have what's called T status, which means they are prioritised for Parliamentary consideration and we're hoping for the outcomes to be available before the end of the year.
And you can find more information about those updates on a resource that's available on our website.
We've worked with NHMRC to broaden the types of entities that are able to apply for MRFF grants administered through NHMRC. What that means is that now all entities identified in the MRFF Act can apply for funding, MRFF funding through NHMRC.
There's a resource on that update on our website, but also advice on the NHMRC website including detailed information about how to apply to become an eligible organisation. I was going to talk about MRFF accelerator grants today, however, ran out of time, there were many more updates to talk about. You can find a resource on the accelerator grants on the MRFF website and I'll make sure that I do talk through the new grant model.
I just wanted to let everyone know that we are constantly updating our website, so that everybody's able to find the most recent up to date information on the MRFF website. We've also recently refreshed the website and that's mostly to consolidate the information that's available. So, for example, we'll only provide information on funded grants and also grant opportunities in one place, whereas previously they were in a couple of different places.
We've also expanded the amount of information that we provide on funded grants, so where we have it will now routinely include the names of all Chief Investigators and also a media summary and a little bit of other information.
We'll be looking to host the next webinar in early '22 and we'll promote and advertise those details once they're available. Here are some topics that we'll be looking to include. If you have other items that you think we should be talking about, please email MRFF@health.gov.au.
This is how you can stay connected with the MRFF, please subscribe to our newsletter. Register on GrantConnect so you're aware of all the grant opportunities. You can follow us on the Department of Health Twitter site and also let us know if you'd like to engage.
Some useful resources that are available are mostly on the website, so we've got our grant calendar, we've got our grant recipient list which I've just indicated has been expanded, information on funded projects and also just our resources, which we're constantly updating and refreshing.
Thank you everyone for your time and I'll just hand, we'll move to the question and answers format. So I'll have David on the side going through the questions and asking Ian, Caroline and I to respond to them.
Thanks Masha. So the first question is for you Masha. It's whether it's possible for the MRFF to come up with more structured timelines, things like expected notification and letting people know when people can expect outcomes just like the NHMRC.
DR MASHA SOMI:
Thank you. So certainly appreciate and I've heard the feedback around wanting more predictability. I think over time we've been able to improve our timeframes and our timelines for our grant opportunities and grant announcements.
Now what hopefully people will see is that, routinely we're open for four to six months as long as possible and that's to, I guess, give people the time to prepare their application. It's good to receive that feedback because we are continually looking to improve our processes and to increase the rigour and the structure around them.
OK. So the next question is also for you Masha. It's around, so they're talking about success rates for health services research, apparently the NHMRC investigator grants were 6% in the last round and the question is, is there a shift away from supporting clinician research in the NHMRC investigator scheme? Are they better positioned in the MRFF?
DR MASHA SOMI:
So that's an interesting one. It's hard for me to speak about NHMRC arrangements. I guess, what I can talk about is what's happening within the MRFF and then I'm not sure Caroline if you are in a position to talk about NHMRC side of things. So we have an initiative within the MRFF called Clinician Researchers, we had used that funding previously to allocate additional investigator grant through NHMRC.
In the last round we've moved to have it as a competitive process that's been managed through Business Grants Hub and we'll be looking for those announcements to be made as soon as possible. And so those investments were to support groups of clinician researchers that were addressing questions that were important to their populations, or their cohorts, their patients that they're looking after.
So I guess on the MRFF side we have that the structure and approach and I'm not sure Caroline if you're able to respond, with regards to the NHMRC side.
PROFESSOR CAROLINE HOMER:
Thank you Masha. I'm not going to respond specifically because there is a lot of information through the NHMRC investigator grants that's available from the website.
But, you know, clearly we're interested in working between NHMRC and MRFF to make sure, that the sector can support clinician researchers and as Masha said, there's a strong emphasis on clinician researchers through the MRFF and we'll keep working through that, particularly with the new Strategy and when the new Priorities come forward. So thank you Masha.
OK, so the next question is for everyone. So the question is, is the MRFF considering or has migrant health as a priority research area?
PROFESSOR IAN FRAZER:
I might answer that and say that it falls within one of the priority areas, which basically is looking at the global and international impact of the research work that's going on and certainly migrant health is part of that.
So that there's not a specific line item for migrant health, but there's a specific line item in amongst the Priorities for research which impacts on more than just the individual, but rather a community or community-based issues.
PROFESSOR CAROLINE HOMER:
Yeah, just to add on to that. I think we're really cognizant this was an important area we heard a lot from the consultation. There is a new priority that's being reframed a bit that's called priority populations, to try and get away from using the word vulnerable populations because, there's some challenges with labelling people in that way.
So including in that group is people living with disabilities, people in rural and remote contexts and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, as well as older Australians. So, that sort of broadens out that and has some areas within that priority population group. Hope that helps.
OK. The next question is for you Masha. Are consumers included in the evaluation panels of grant applications? Where are they drawn from?
DR MASHA SOMI:
So we have a set of principles for the skills and experiences that we have on grant assessment committees, so that includes peers but also health service providers and consumers. So I think there's a range of different ways that consumers are drawn from.
So through NHMRC, for example, they have an existing network and also individuals are able to register an interest to participate in MRFF grant assessment committees. There's a portal that's made available through the NHMRC website and we can promote that as well. And that's a tool that we're also able to use to draw potential candidates for panel members for the Business Grants Hub, grant assessment committees as well.
We also routinely engage with council, like cancer councils and other groups, to source consumers for, with experience in research for specific grant opportunities. So, where it's relevant we often reach out to colleagues, the network that we have, to try to identify consumers who can assist with grant assessments.
Staying on the grant assessments this question asked, how much weight is placed on the track record of researchers?
DR MASHA SOMI:
So, I think that... So we have four assessment criteria for the MRFF, which is a standard, which is the impact of the project, the project methodology, the capacity, capability and resources of the team that's been brought to bear on the project and the overall value and risk.
So the assessment of the capacity and capability of the group is obviously addressed within that third criteria, and that criteria includes a range of sub points which really go to the skills and experiences of the team, to deliver on the intended project. So, track record is obviously picked up as part of that process, but that assessment is much broader than track record.
Now looking at grant administration, this question asked, why are there two hubs, NHMRC and Business Grants Hub.
DR MASHA SOMI:
So we tend to, there's a few different kind of decision points or factors that we consider when selecting which grant hub to use.
Obviously, NHMRC has that really strong experience in health and medical research, however, Business Grants has a very, much more connected link into, kind of the businesses and SME side of the sector and so we tend to use Business Grants Hub for grant opportunities that relate to commercialisation, or potentially sometimes we use them for things around digital health and artificial intelligence, where there's a slightly different cohort of organisations that might be applying.
One for Ian and Caroline.
DR MASHA SOMI:
(CROSSTALK) If I can just add, it also goes to the capacity of the hub. So the MRFF is quite a large program of work as you've seen.
Just in the last financial year we had 36 grant opportunities, in the year before I think we had over 50 and so sometimes we have to balance workloads to see what the capacity of each of the hubs is to manage that program of work. Particularly if we might have a number of grant opportunities happening concurrently, we sometimes need to split them between the hubs.
OK. This one's for everyone. What role do you see the MRFF playing in funding regional health security initiatives? Is there scope within the new Strategy to support the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations on an ongoing basis?
PROFESSOR IAN FRAZER:
Well, that's a tough question to ask about a very specific project, but there is obviously a global health and health security priority, listed amongst the Priorities for the use of the Medical Research Future Fund.
In individual organisations obviously, like to have a one line source of funding, but the reality is that it has to be done competitively as all of the funding for the MRFF, and if there is an opportunity for that organisation to present against the grant opportunity, obviously they will be eligible to apply.
We have deliberately made sure, mostly at the request of the research community, that there are no specific allocations to individual organisations, rather competitive funding is the rule.
DR MASHA SOMI:
So global health appears as a priority, it also appears as an initiative in the 10-year plan and also the way the MRFF is structured we have the flexibility to address emerging priorities. So as I flagged, we didn't have an initial, like an initiative for the COVID-19 response, however, we've been able through a range of our other initiatives where it's appropriate, to allocate funding for COVID-19 research.
And so, I guess just to give people assurance that there is flexibility within the MRFF to address emerging priorities and issues.
OK. Another question for everyone. Can you speak more on the appetite for risk and on the MRFF's position on funding blue sky research?
PROFESSOR IAN FRAZER:
The Medical Research Future Fund has a diverse appetite for risk. From one end of the spectrum we're looking for sure things but at the, for particularly in the research translation field we recognise that there is a need for blue sky research, which will carry greater risk.
But there's got to be measured against the potential benefits if the work is successful, so we have a risk benefit Strategy rather than just a risk Strategy. And clearly, for some of the work that we fund, the frontiers program for example, we're expecting that the risk will be quite high, but the potential benefit if it works will be commensurate with the amount of funding and the risk. So yes, we have a variable risk Strategy.
OK, next question. Does the MRFF support researchers to develop their preclinical drug data into a clinical program?
DR MASHA SOMI:
So there are a number of initiatives where that sort of research is able to be undertaken, through some of the missions that's possible, through the Medical Research Commercialisation Initiative that's possible.
So, what I always say to everyone is please read the grant opportunity guidelines as they’re released, look closely at section 1.3 which sets out the objective and intended outcomes of the research, and also look at the selection criteria which is always in section five. So if you look at every single grant guideline you'll see the type of research that's being called for.
As I flagged, we had 36 grant opportunities this year, 54 last year. There's a range of research that's been called for and funded and really encourage people to move beyond the title of the initiative and the title of the grant opportunity, to really look at the research that's being called for and the priority that's being addressed through that funding.
PROFESSOR IAN FRAZER:
Giving a concrete example of that targeted translational research for the cardiovascular mission and the diabetes mission, includes a fair amount of funding that will almost certainly be allocated for translation of preclinical drugs, into the clinic in those specific areas.
So it's a matter of looking at the detail of the program and say, what is the overall scope of this particular program and then to look and see whether there would be an opportunity for funding in that area. Because clearly these larger thematic programs, are meant to cover all of the aspects of managing that particular health problem, including drug development.
DR MASHA SOMI:
And if you've got a particular preclinical project in mind, please keep an eye out. Brandon Capital have been successful in managing one of our medical research commercialisation activities, they recently launched a program around preclinical drug development.
This question pertains to future grant opportunities. Will the MRFF consider a similar scheme to the NHMRC ideas grant where emerging / early career researchers have a chance to be funded?
DR MASHA SOMI:
I mean, we always welcome ideas and thoughts and we're always looking at the landscape nationally, internationally to find new ways of doing research or commissioning research and funding research.
So, and we're also very interested in supporting early to mid-career researchers. Some of you will know we had some targeted roundtables looking at the experience in the health and medical researchers, in remaining in the health and medical research sector and that's the sector more broadly, not just in academia and we've received that advice and we're working through it now.
PROFESSOR CAROLINE HOMER:
Masha can I just add to that that I've been on panels, I've chaired a number of MRFF grant panels over the last couple of years and there are lots of instances actually, where emerging or early career researchers with a good team behind them, but perhaps not the lead investigator have done very well because the criteria is about capability and capacity.
And so I think that exists and we'll keep, you know, working with Masha and her team to make sure that those opportunities are available to people. So don't not put your grant in, it is about looking at those criteria, the capability and capacity criteria and working out how you fit within that.
Looking at grant administration again. NHMRC submissions are financially restricted compared to the business portal in terms of the scope of eligible budget items. Will MRFF try to streamline this so that grants administered by NHMRC are not disadvantaged compared to the business grants?
DR MASHA SOMI:
Yeah. I guess my comment with that is that a very high level they are quite consistent, in terms of eligible expenses. I do acknowledge that there are some differences in the implementation and we are looking closely at that now, or over the next few months. So it is an issue that we're aware of and looking to address.
So it sounds like there's no more questions.
Would anybody like to throw in one in at the last minute or, we can always finish early, we can all have an extra 12 minutes to ourselves. No, nothing is coming through. OK.
PROFESSOR IAN FRAZER:
As Chair of AMRAB, I'd just like to thank Masha for doing a very comprehensive presentation on the work that has been undertaken by the Medical Research Future Fund, over the course of the last couple of years and looking forward. I think that the level of feedback to the research community has moved up step wise since the inception of the MRFF and Masha you did a really good job today.
DR MASHA SOMI:
Thank you Ian that's very kind, thank you and thank you everyone. Just a reminder that the presentation will be made available on the website and we'll also promote it through our newsletter and we look forward to seeing you early in 2022. Thank you.
This video is a recording of the MRFF quarterly webinar held on 16 November 2021. The webinar was hosted by:
- Professor Ian Frazer AC – Chair, Australian Medical Research Advisory Board (AMRAB)
- Professor Caroline Homer AO – Deputy Chair, AMRAB
- Dr Masha Somi – Chief Executive Officer, Health and Medical Research Office.
The panel discussed the MRFF’s strategy and priorities, initiatives and research missions. Topics also included a recent MRFF performance audit by the ANAO, proposed changes to the MRFF Act 2015 and MRFF eligible organisations.
A question and answer session followed.
Read the webinar presentation.