An important theme at last year's AICD conference was the message that Australia needs to take a more active role in the biotechnology revolution.
Harvard Professor Jonathan West (who is originally from Tasmania) outlined the scope of the life sciences revolution and left no one in doubt that Australia wasn't doing enough.
At this year's conference at the Gold Coast, Jonathan West gave generously of his time to give delegates practical examples of the difficulties of commercialising science, the capital needed and the rewards to be gained. He says Australia needs to develop the appropriate systems whereby the risk of biotechnology commercialisation is managed and the returns appropriated to the people or companies taking that risk.
Innovation is inherently risky and requires substantial resources. To be successful in the life sciences, nations must generate new technology and science rather than importing this technology.
To control the intellectual property and capturing the value through equity participation and this means building public and private networks. Unless this is discussed at the highest levels and a strategy put in place, Australians will become consumers of the biotechnology revolution rather than players, says West. He called on government, business and the education sectors to consolidate their efforts.
To help facilitate this process, AICD organised a high-level biotechnology workshop at the conference. The workshop was by invitation only and included Graham Bradley managing director and CEO Perpetual Trustees, John Massey Queensland Division resident and chairman of Micromedical Industries, Richard Butler, Nick Greiner, Linda Nicholls chairman Australia Post, John Martin executive director Proteone Systems, Euan Murdoch Herron Pharmaceuticals, Ron Bunker chairman Citibank, Peter Jonson chair Australian Institute of Commercialisation, Philip Bullock managing director and CEO IBM, Bill Ferris chairman Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Michael Quinn Innovation Capital Associates, Peter Carr and AICD chief executive John Hall.
There was general consensus that Australia's educational establishments are not meeting the challenges of the future. The view was that they were more concerned with getting bums on seats (more fee paying students) than creating centres of intellectual excellence. While the workshop covered some initial ground it was agreed that further discussions were needed and an appropriate outcome of these discussions would be to come up with a national statement on the Australia's biotechnology preparedness. AICD offered to host some of these discussions.
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