Commercialising Biotech: Bringing Research To Life

Commercialising Biotech: Bringing Research To Life

While fundamental research is important, the ultimate goal for many biotechnology researchers is that their efforts would have a direct impact beyond the lab — to improve or save lives.

We know that many therapies are, in fact, discovered in the labs of public research organisations. A study of new drugs approved by the FDA between 1990–2007 found that up to 21.2% were discovered in such labs and that these drugs were likely to have a disproportionately important clinical effect.

So, in Australia, how do we currently fare in navigating the commercialisation or lab-to-clinic journey? Are we able to bring great biotechnology research to life?

Good at research, bad at commercialisation

It is clear that we ‘punch above our weight’ in research output. It was reported in 2013 that:

  • Australia contributed 3.9% of the world’s research output from 0.3% of the world’s population.
  • Our share of top 1% publications (by citation impact) had increased to nearly 7% (from 3.8% in 2004)

A large proportion of this output is in medical, health and biological sciences.

But we are not so good at getting all that great research out of the lab. Australia ranks 73rd out of 128 countries based on the Global Innovation Efficiency Ratio, suggesting an inability to effectively transform an investment in innovation into outputs. This is reflected in the fledgeling state of the Australian biotechnology industry.

What contributes to this lack of commercial outcomes?

The ‘research commercialisation’ process is a complex one that differs from case-to-case, but there are some widely accepted barriers.

The right people

All of these factors are important, but perhaps the most critical ingredient is the simplest — people. The right people. With the right skills. At the right time. Coming together in the right place with a shared mission to navigate the barriers and make a difference.

The commercial world can be perceived as a foreign land to researchers — the language, customs and culture are all vastly different from academia. At worst, it is seen as the ‘dark side’ which is not to be trusted and is at odds with the ideals of academic research.

But the reality, especially in a field like biotechnology, is that a lock-step dance with the commercial world — capital, strategy, regulation and marketing — is entirely necessary if a new therapy or diagnostic is ever going to make a difference in the life of a patient. If a researcher with great technology can surround themselves early on with people that can help navigate the commercialisation journey, the chances of success are greatly increased.