08 April 2011
If the upcoming federal budget actually slashes funding to the National Health and Medical Research Council by $400 million over the next three years, as rumoured, Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research alone would stand to lose over $3 million a year.
That figure translates into closure of three or four labs a year at Garvan, as well as many research breakthroughs – in cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and brain disorders – that will never occur.
Typical of major research institutes, peer reviewed grants represent 65% of Garvan’s total operating income, the rest received from private donations and other sources.
NHMRC allocates roughly $700 million in peer reviewed grants each year – shared among universities and designated medical research institutes. While $700 million might sound generous, money is already extremely tight – with only 20% of grant applications being successful. So in effect, 80% of the nation’s potential breakthroughs go unsupported. With further erosion, the sector will become unsustainable.
The cuts rumoured to be on the table would end the careers of hundreds of talented young scientists nationwide – potentially one in five – a grim scenario indeed.
Even at the current levels, one of the major challenges facing successful research institutes around Australia is the “gap” between the total cost of doing research and the funding provided by competitive research grants. For every dollar of research funding awarded, another 70 cents is required to carry out the research. Many generous Australians help fill the gap each year because they recognise the importance of medical research.
“Most people will immediately see the irony of cutting medical research spending at a time when our public hospitals are struggling to cope and the government is genuinely trying to reform the system,” said Executive Director of Garvan, Professor John Shine.
“Medical research is essential to keep people healthy and out of hospital – the major way to reduce health care costs and maintain our high standards of care.”
“Surely a priority should be proper funding of research to prevent diseases in the first place, or cure them quickly when they occur. That is the focus of all medical research in Australia at the moment.”
“Enormous progress is taking place in discovering the causes of, and ways of preventing and treating, disease. These discoveries are rapidly being translated into real improvements in health care. It is this momentum that will be lost and new cures delayed if this critical funding - only 1.5% of the health budget - is significantly reduced”.
“I would strongly urge the government to reconsider, if the rumours being reported in the media are true. Cuts of this size will set the medical research sector back decades, and severely compromise our ability to translate worldwide research advances into improvements in quality of life for all in our community.”