Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Our Niche Pharming Future

By Simon Grose

Australia’s biggest exporter of value-added products, the pharmaceuticals industry, is struggling to remain competitive.

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Australia’s consistent high achievement in medical research is common knowledge, but less commonly known is the high achievement of our pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

“Big Pharma” generally cops bad news, usually over the costs or availability of drugs and its marketing methods. The good news is that with annual exports worth around $4 billion per year it is our largest manufacturing exporter, beating our car and wine makers. By spending around $1 billion each year on R&D it is also our largest single investor in research.

But maybe it has peaked already. The annual value of its exports and research expenditure has remained static since the middle of the last decade. And the level of clinical trial activity – a key barometer of drug development – is trending downwards.

The number of clinical trials conducted in Australia almost doubled between 1988–99 and 2006–07, from 1597 to 3182, but has since fallen at an annual rate of 13% to 2820 in 2010–11.

Medicines Australia, the sector’s peak body, identified our advantages and disadvantages as a host for clinical trials in a paper issued in November. Among the advantages are high-quality infrastructure and clinicians, an ethnically diverse population, high volunteer rate, fast-track approvals for Phase I trials, and effective intellectual property governance.

Among the disadvantages is...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (