Once in a generation Medical Research Development Fund – a shot in the arm for biotech industry

Australia is a world leader when it comes to biotech, and a new venture capital fund is set to give the nation’s competitiveness in the medical sciences a further healthy boost.

The federal government, which formed the A$500 million Biomedical Translation Fund (BTF) as part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda, has appointed venture capital firm Brandon Capital Partners and it Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) to manage a A$230 million portion of the BTF from its Melbourne offices.

Brandon Capital already administers several biotech funds, but managing director Dr Chris Nave says the new MRCF BTF will plug a key gap in the national support system for promising biomedical startups.

Bridging the gap

“We already run the MRCF3, a A$200 million biotech fund we raised in 2015 that is targeted at supporting the most promising early-stage discoveries emerging from Australia’s medical research institutes and hospitals,’’ says Dr Nave.

“Due to the large technical risk in biotech, many of these will fail early in development. But for those companies that are successful, the new MRCF BTF has the funding capacity to support them into late-stage clinical development and in some cases, to registration and commercialisation.’’

This means that for the first time in Australia, biotech startups will have access to a continuum of substantial funding to support them from concept to commercialisation without having to relocate offshore or head to the public markets to access these levels of funding, and Dr Nave says this will be a game-changer.

“Too often we have seen promising discoveries leave our shores early in development, with little value returned to the country,’’ he says.

“We currently have 28 companies in our portfolio, and several of these are ready to immediately take advantage of the BTF.’’

Exciting opportunities

The size of the new BTF funds will also encourage experienced Australian expats and others overseas looking to come to Australia to access the nation’s leading clinical development capabilities, with the size of the new BTF funds providing the critical mass of funding required to attract such talent.

“Already we are looking as some very exciting opportunities that we could bring to Australia to develop here,’’ says Dr Nave.

Melbourne the biotech hub

The MRCF BTF is funded by the Commonwealth government and leading Australian superannuation funds, with the same superannuation funds backing the MRCF3. The Medical Research Commercialisation Fund Collaboration is a unique joint venture between major Australian superannuation funds and over 50 leading medical research institutes and research hospitals in Australia and New Zealand.

The MRCF Collaboration was formed in 2007 and is based in Melbourne, and to date over half of the biotech companies in which it has invested have been Victorian.

“Melbourne is a world-leading centre in biotech,’’ says Dr Nave. “A significant proportion of the national industry is based in the city. Its excellent facilities such as the universities, the Parkville precinct and Alfred/Monash research precincts are a big reason for strength of the industry here.’’

Global expertise

Other key biotech players headquartered in Melbourne include CSL, a global biotherapeutics company that operates in over 30 countries, with more than 15,000 employees.

CSL is also a major investor in the BTF, and Dr Nave says their expertise will be as valuable as their capital when it comes to getting startups over the line to commercialisation.

“We are delighted that CSL has invested into the MRCF. They are Australia’s largest and most successful biotech company, and one of the largest in the world. We want to be able to provide our early-stage companies and research organisations with access to CSL’s development expertise, which aligns with the later-stage focus of the MRCF BTF,’’ says Dr Nave.

Jobs of the future

Currently ranked No.5 in the world for its biotech capabilities, Australia should be playing to its strengths and doing all it can to nurture the industry, says Dr Nave.

“Pharmaceutical and medicinal products are Australia’s largest manufactured export industry – a statistic that is not widely appreciated,’’ he says.

“Successful biotech is actually just manufacturing. Once a drug, vaccine or device is approved, it becomes a manufacturing company—albeit a smart manufacturing company, protected by patents and strict regulatory conditions.

“With funds like the BTF, we have the opportunity to keep companies in Australia, growing the  manufacturing industry and creating jobs, wealth and positive healthcare outcomes for Australians.’’