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Competition in health research: the experience of the John Curtin School of Medical Research

Competition in health research: the experience of the John Curtin School of Medical Research Background: In 2002 the Australian National Competitive Grants System was opened to the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University as part of a commitment to transparency, competitiveness, and collaboration in national research funding. Results: The block grant to the John Curtin School of Medical Research had progressively eroded over many years. Access to the National Competitive Grants Schemes and associated infrastructure (through an agreed 'buy-in' price of 20% of block funding) has succeeded in its aims and in reversing this progressive effective decrease in funding. Conclusion: Access to the National Competitive Grant Scheme has allowed the John Curtin School of Medical Research to contribute more broadly to Australia's health and medical research effort through increased collaboration, in a transparent and competitive funding environment. was £1500 to Frank Fenner from the Rural Credits Devel- Discussion Australia has developed a unique blend of medical opment Fund in 1952), it was ineligible for National research institutions, from universities, teaching hospi- Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Austral- tals, independent medical research institutes to a range of ian Research Council (ARC) and other national competi- smaller centres. Universities with medical schools have tive grants. The School unquestionably benefited from been the primary forces in medical research and many of generous (by local standards) funding in its early years the university teaching hospitals fostered the develop- and its science profited accordingly. Fundamental discov- ment of research institutes within their grounds [1]. The eries have included Nobel Prize winning work on the elu- spectacular development of medical research in Australia cidation of mechanisms of transmission of signals in the over the last 50 years was reviewed recently in recognition nervous system (Eccles) and the discovery of the role of of Australia's Centenary of Federation celebrations [2]. the major histocompatibility complex (Doherty and Zink- ernagel). Today, the School has a wide range of research in The Australian National University (ANU) was estab- such areas as infection, neurosciences, genomics and lished as a research university [1] with four founding molecular bioscience, and has spawned a major national schools. The John Curtin School of Medical Research research facility, the Australian Phenomics Facility. Some (JCSMR) was funded for its first 50 years through a one- key discoveries in recent years are summarised in Table 1. line Commonwealth Grant to the ANU. Although the School had always sought external funds (its first grant Page 1 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes) Australia and New Zealand Health Policy 2005, 2:5 http://www.anzhealthpolicy.com/content/2/1/5 Table 1: Recent Research Achievements, John Curtin School of Medical Research Year Achievement Researchers(s) Comment Reference 1999 Heparanase cloned Hulett, Freeman and Inhibiting the enzyme is the Nature Medicine 5:803- colleagues basis of cancer treatments 809, 1999 based on sulfated polysaccharides 2001 First diabetes susceptibility Slattery and colleagues Serendipitous discovery Proc Nat Acad Sci, USA gene identified providing a potential 98:11533-11538, 2001 therapeutic target in type 1 diabetes 2002 Amiloride derivatives block Gage and colleagues Research on compounds Eur. Biophys. J. 31:26-35, ion channel activity and that block viral ion 2002 enhancement of virus-like channels raises the particle budding caused by possibility of inhibiting an HIV-1 protein viruses that utilize ion channels 2002 Antibody 'tail sequence' Martin and Goodnow Finding has wide Nature Immunology 3:182- identified that has implications for 188, 2002 significant implications for vaccination, allergy and immunological memory autoimmunity 2002 Phase II clinical trials of PI Parish and colleagues Promising results in Eur. J Cancer 38(S7):74, 88 anti-cancer drug treating advanced 2002 melanoma 2003 New approach to Parish Approach is potentially less Immunology and Cell vaccination against cancer susceptible to immune Biology 81, 106-113, 2003. evasion It can be argued that JCSMR's position as one of the orig- undertaken only when researchers are able to attract suffi- inal block-funded research schools of the Institute of cient external resources. Advances Studies (IAS) has given it the opportunity to pursue long-term, independent medical research. Many The change in environment and the disappearance of staff and alumni of JCSMR, including its present Director, cross subsidisation from patient care and/or teaching has argue that the Nobel Prizes, the Albert Einstein World both advantages and disadvantages. Today's research (and Award, the Japan Prize, the Copley Medal, and a host of research funding) is more transparent: what is spent on other international awards attest to the success of this research as opposed to care and teaching, at least at the funding strategy over the past 50 years, and that the scien- micro level, is much better defined. And, in parallel, the tific achievements that those prizes signify could only loss of capacity to undertake research that is not peer have been made by research that could be conducted over reviewed has almost certainly raised research standards. long (10 to 20 year) time frames. The negatives are equally obvious. The University of Mel- bourne submission to the Wills review stated 'The danger But the funding climate has changed dramatically over the is that if the importance of the nexus between research last few decades. Twenty five years ago many tenured Aus- and learning is not visible to tertiary students because tralian university or teaching hospital staff were able to University research is allowed to run down through poor undertake research even without external funding. Infra- infrastructure, equipment or lack of opportunity of structure was relatively generous, there was still funding research scientists then research institutes and teaching for university technical research staff, hospitals provided hospitals will inevitably suffer from a lack of quality of drugs and consumables and even beds at no cost to the graduates available to them'[3]. researcher, and research activities merged relatively seam- lessly into those of teaching and patient care. Today The JCSMR has not been exempted from these pressures, research is increasingly separated from teaching and care, and over the last 20 years the value of the block grant has and the days of in-kind support are long gone. Research is been progressively eroded. The JCSMR grant was a one- an investment for the nation and the future, but in con- line grant to the Director, which provided flexibility, but temporary funding climates within universities and hos- inhibited collaboration because of restrictive rules around pitals it is increasingly becoming an optional extra, the National Competitive Grants Scheme. Accordingly, a Page 2 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes) Australia and New Zealand Health Policy 2005, 2:5 http://www.anzhealthpolicy.com/content/2/1/5 desire for transparency, competitiveness and phers in all ages, to trace to their sources the causes of dis- collaboration led to a decision in 2000 by the Common- ease, to correlate the vast stores of knowledge, that they wealth Government that the IAS of the ANU could enter may be quickly available for the prevention and the cure the National Competitive Grants Scheme. The negotia- of disease – these are our ambitions' [4]. tions that led to partial entry of JCSMR into the NHMRC schemes in 2001 (for 2002) were long and complex. How- In the first three years that JCSMR has been eligible to ever the negotiations between JCSMR and NHMRC were apply for research funding, their researchers have been paralleled by those between the ARC and ANU and led to awarded a total of $18 million (88% NHMRC, 12% ARC) a jointly agreed 'buy in' price of 20% of 2000 funding for in competitive funding for periods of up to five years. All the IAS to gain access to the various national funding, three NHMRC program grants held by researchers at the research training and related schemes. This was $1.7 mil- JCSMR are collaborative with other Australian institutions lion per annum for JCSMR access to the National Compet- and School researchers hold four ARC linkage grants. This itive Grant Schemes and a similar amount for access to the collaboration bodes well for Australian health and for training and infrastructure schemes. It was determined biotechnology growth. In a highly competitive world, initially that entry would be phased, but after one year the Australian researchers need every opportunity to succeed. ARC determined that the phase-in was unnecessary and gave the IAS full entry from 2002 (for 2003), and the Acknowledgements Thanks to Professor Warwick Anderson who provided helpful advice and NHMRC followed suit. Mrs Amanda Jacobsen for preparation of the manuscript. The JCSMR felt that, at last, it was able to redress the com- References petitive disadvantage the School faced because of its 1. Fenner F, Curtis D: The John Curtin School of Medical essentially fixed funding over the last 10 to 15 years, at a Research: the first fifty years, 1948–1998. Brolga Press, Gundaroo; 2001. time when government funding for the NHMRC system 2. Chalmers J, Whitworth JA: A half century of Australian health had doubled and then redoubled, from around $65 mil- and medical research. Medical Journal of Australia 2001, 174:29-32. lion in the late eighties to $176 million in 1999 to $381 3. Health and Medical Strategic Review: The Virtuous Cycle, work- ing together for health and medical research. 1999. million in 2004. The rest of the system waited, not with- 4. Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from His Bedside Teachings out apprehension, for the outcome, but there had long and Writings. In Collected by Robert Bennett Bean Edited by: William been a wish within the research community that JCSMR Bennett Bean. Charles C Thomas, Springfield Illinois; 1968. (third printing) be subject to the same forms of peer review as the broader medical research community. Removing barriers to collaboration, the outcome of these st changes, is important for 21 century approaches to improving health. The World Health Organisation has st stated that the likely trends in global health in the 21 cen- tury include widespread absolute and relative poverty, demographic changes, ageing, growth of cities, epidemio- logical changes, continuing high influence of infectious diseases, increasing incidence of non-communicable dis- eases, injuries and violence, global environmental threats to human survival, new technologies, information and telemedicine services, advances in biotechnology, evolv- ing partnerships for health that include private and public sectors and civil society, and globalisation of trade, travel Publish with Bio Med Central and every and the spread of values and ideas. Research to deal with scientist can read your work free of charge global health problems will therefore necessarily be "BioMed Central will be the most significant development for multidisciplinary, involving biomedical, clinical, public disseminating the results of biomedical researc h in our lifetime." health and health services research, and include the social Sir Paul Nurse, Cancer Research UK sciences, information sciences and engineering, physics, Your research papers will be: chemistry, ecology and environmental sciences and eco- available free of charge to the entire biomedical community nomics. As part of the IAS, the JCSMR is accordingly peer reviewed and published immediately upon acceptance strongly positioned. Not that this need for a multidiscipli- cited in PubMed and archived on PubMed Central nary approach is really a new concept – in 1902 Osler yours — you keep the copyright stated that the remit of medical research was 'to wrest from nature the secrets which have perplexed philoso- BioMedcentral Submit your manuscript here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/publishing_adv.asp Page 3 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Australia and New Zealand Health Policy Springer Journals

Competition in health research: the experience of the John Curtin School of Medical Research

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Springer Journals
Copyright
Copyright © 2005 by Whitworth; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Subject
Medicine & Public Health; Public Health; Social Policy
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1743-8462
DOI
10.1186/1743-8462-2-5
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Abstract

Background: In 2002 the Australian National Competitive Grants System was opened to the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University as part of a commitment to transparency, competitiveness, and collaboration in national research funding. Results: The block grant to the John Curtin School of Medical Research had progressively eroded over many years. Access to the National Competitive Grants Schemes and associated infrastructure (through an agreed 'buy-in' price of 20% of block funding) has succeeded in its aims and in reversing this progressive effective decrease in funding. Conclusion: Access to the National Competitive Grant Scheme has allowed the John Curtin School of Medical Research to contribute more broadly to Australia's health and medical research effort through increased collaboration, in a transparent and competitive funding environment. was £1500 to Frank Fenner from the Rural Credits Devel- Discussion Australia has developed a unique blend of medical opment Fund in 1952), it was ineligible for National research institutions, from universities, teaching hospi- Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Austral- tals, independent medical research institutes to a range of ian Research Council (ARC) and other national competi- smaller centres. Universities with medical schools have tive grants. The School unquestionably benefited from been the primary forces in medical research and many of generous (by local standards) funding in its early years the university teaching hospitals fostered the develop- and its science profited accordingly. Fundamental discov- ment of research institutes within their grounds [1]. The eries have included Nobel Prize winning work on the elu- spectacular development of medical research in Australia cidation of mechanisms of transmission of signals in the over the last 50 years was reviewed recently in recognition nervous system (Eccles) and the discovery of the role of of Australia's Centenary of Federation celebrations [2]. the major histocompatibility complex (Doherty and Zink- ernagel). Today, the School has a wide range of research in The Australian National University (ANU) was estab- such areas as infection, neurosciences, genomics and lished as a research university [1] with four founding molecular bioscience, and has spawned a major national schools. The John Curtin School of Medical Research research facility, the Australian Phenomics Facility. Some (JCSMR) was funded for its first 50 years through a one- key discoveries in recent years are summarised in Table 1. line Commonwealth Grant to the ANU. Although the School had always sought external funds (its first grant Page 1 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes) Australia and New Zealand Health Policy 2005, 2:5 http://www.anzhealthpolicy.com/content/2/1/5 Table 1: Recent Research Achievements, John Curtin School of Medical Research Year Achievement Researchers(s) Comment Reference 1999 Heparanase cloned Hulett, Freeman and Inhibiting the enzyme is the Nature Medicine 5:803- colleagues basis of cancer treatments 809, 1999 based on sulfated polysaccharides 2001 First diabetes susceptibility Slattery and colleagues Serendipitous discovery Proc Nat Acad Sci, USA gene identified providing a potential 98:11533-11538, 2001 therapeutic target in type 1 diabetes 2002 Amiloride derivatives block Gage and colleagues Research on compounds Eur. Biophys. J. 31:26-35, ion channel activity and that block viral ion 2002 enhancement of virus-like channels raises the particle budding caused by possibility of inhibiting an HIV-1 protein viruses that utilize ion channels 2002 Antibody 'tail sequence' Martin and Goodnow Finding has wide Nature Immunology 3:182- identified that has implications for 188, 2002 significant implications for vaccination, allergy and immunological memory autoimmunity 2002 Phase II clinical trials of PI Parish and colleagues Promising results in Eur. J Cancer 38(S7):74, 88 anti-cancer drug treating advanced 2002 melanoma 2003 New approach to Parish Approach is potentially less Immunology and Cell vaccination against cancer susceptible to immune Biology 81, 106-113, 2003. evasion It can be argued that JCSMR's position as one of the orig- undertaken only when researchers are able to attract suffi- inal block-funded research schools of the Institute of cient external resources. Advances Studies (IAS) has given it the opportunity to pursue long-term, independent medical research. Many The change in environment and the disappearance of staff and alumni of JCSMR, including its present Director, cross subsidisation from patient care and/or teaching has argue that the Nobel Prizes, the Albert Einstein World both advantages and disadvantages. Today's research (and Award, the Japan Prize, the Copley Medal, and a host of research funding) is more transparent: what is spent on other international awards attest to the success of this research as opposed to care and teaching, at least at the funding strategy over the past 50 years, and that the scien- micro level, is much better defined. And, in parallel, the tific achievements that those prizes signify could only loss of capacity to undertake research that is not peer have been made by research that could be conducted over reviewed has almost certainly raised research standards. long (10 to 20 year) time frames. The negatives are equally obvious. The University of Mel- bourne submission to the Wills review stated 'The danger But the funding climate has changed dramatically over the is that if the importance of the nexus between research last few decades. Twenty five years ago many tenured Aus- and learning is not visible to tertiary students because tralian university or teaching hospital staff were able to University research is allowed to run down through poor undertake research even without external funding. Infra- infrastructure, equipment or lack of opportunity of structure was relatively generous, there was still funding research scientists then research institutes and teaching for university technical research staff, hospitals provided hospitals will inevitably suffer from a lack of quality of drugs and consumables and even beds at no cost to the graduates available to them'[3]. researcher, and research activities merged relatively seam- lessly into those of teaching and patient care. Today The JCSMR has not been exempted from these pressures, research is increasingly separated from teaching and care, and over the last 20 years the value of the block grant has and the days of in-kind support are long gone. Research is been progressively eroded. The JCSMR grant was a one- an investment for the nation and the future, but in con- line grant to the Director, which provided flexibility, but temporary funding climates within universities and hos- inhibited collaboration because of restrictive rules around pitals it is increasingly becoming an optional extra, the National Competitive Grants Scheme. Accordingly, a Page 2 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes) Australia and New Zealand Health Policy 2005, 2:5 http://www.anzhealthpolicy.com/content/2/1/5 desire for transparency, competitiveness and phers in all ages, to trace to their sources the causes of dis- collaboration led to a decision in 2000 by the Common- ease, to correlate the vast stores of knowledge, that they wealth Government that the IAS of the ANU could enter may be quickly available for the prevention and the cure the National Competitive Grants Scheme. The negotia- of disease – these are our ambitions' [4]. tions that led to partial entry of JCSMR into the NHMRC schemes in 2001 (for 2002) were long and complex. How- In the first three years that JCSMR has been eligible to ever the negotiations between JCSMR and NHMRC were apply for research funding, their researchers have been paralleled by those between the ARC and ANU and led to awarded a total of $18 million (88% NHMRC, 12% ARC) a jointly agreed 'buy in' price of 20% of 2000 funding for in competitive funding for periods of up to five years. All the IAS to gain access to the various national funding, three NHMRC program grants held by researchers at the research training and related schemes. This was $1.7 mil- JCSMR are collaborative with other Australian institutions lion per annum for JCSMR access to the National Compet- and School researchers hold four ARC linkage grants. This itive Grant Schemes and a similar amount for access to the collaboration bodes well for Australian health and for training and infrastructure schemes. It was determined biotechnology growth. In a highly competitive world, initially that entry would be phased, but after one year the Australian researchers need every opportunity to succeed. ARC determined that the phase-in was unnecessary and gave the IAS full entry from 2002 (for 2003), and the Acknowledgements Thanks to Professor Warwick Anderson who provided helpful advice and NHMRC followed suit. Mrs Amanda Jacobsen for preparation of the manuscript. The JCSMR felt that, at last, it was able to redress the com- References petitive disadvantage the School faced because of its 1. Fenner F, Curtis D: The John Curtin School of Medical essentially fixed funding over the last 10 to 15 years, at a Research: the first fifty years, 1948–1998. Brolga Press, Gundaroo; 2001. time when government funding for the NHMRC system 2. Chalmers J, Whitworth JA: A half century of Australian health had doubled and then redoubled, from around $65 mil- and medical research. Medical Journal of Australia 2001, 174:29-32. lion in the late eighties to $176 million in 1999 to $381 3. Health and Medical Strategic Review: The Virtuous Cycle, work- ing together for health and medical research. 1999. million in 2004. The rest of the system waited, not with- 4. Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from His Bedside Teachings out apprehension, for the outcome, but there had long and Writings. In Collected by Robert Bennett Bean Edited by: William been a wish within the research community that JCSMR Bennett Bean. Charles C Thomas, Springfield Illinois; 1968. (third printing) be subject to the same forms of peer review as the broader medical research community. Removing barriers to collaboration, the outcome of these st changes, is important for 21 century approaches to improving health. The World Health Organisation has st stated that the likely trends in global health in the 21 cen- tury include widespread absolute and relative poverty, demographic changes, ageing, growth of cities, epidemio- logical changes, continuing high influence of infectious diseases, increasing incidence of non-communicable dis- eases, injuries and violence, global environmental threats to human survival, new technologies, information and telemedicine services, advances in biotechnology, evolv- ing partnerships for health that include private and public sectors and civil society, and globalisation of trade, travel Publish with Bio Med Central and every and the spread of values and ideas. Research to deal with scientist can read your work free of charge global health problems will therefore necessarily be "BioMed Central will be the most significant development for multidisciplinary, involving biomedical, clinical, public disseminating the results of biomedical researc h in our lifetime." health and health services research, and include the social Sir Paul Nurse, Cancer Research UK sciences, information sciences and engineering, physics, Your research papers will be: chemistry, ecology and environmental sciences and eco- available free of charge to the entire biomedical community nomics. As part of the IAS, the JCSMR is accordingly peer reviewed and published immediately upon acceptance strongly positioned. Not that this need for a multidiscipli- cited in PubMed and archived on PubMed Central nary approach is really a new concept – in 1902 Osler yours — you keep the copyright stated that the remit of medical research was 'to wrest from nature the secrets which have perplexed philoso- BioMedcentral Submit your manuscript here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/publishing_adv.asp Page 3 of 3 (page number not for citation purposes)

Journal

Australia and New Zealand Health PolicySpringer Journals

Published: Mar 16, 2005

References