A panel comprising academic and industry figures in Australia discussed the value, challenges, and opportunities in research translation at the third ARDC Leadership forum on 26 October 2022.
Held in Melbourne/Naarm and online, this was the last ARDC Leadership forum of the year. Throughout 2022, the ARDC Leadership Series brought together decision makers in academia, government, and industry to work through some of the biggest data challenges Australia is facing.
Joined by 3 leaders of the Australian research sector and industry and facilitated by ARDC Board member Russell Yardley FAICD, this forum explored the importance of research translation, issues with commercialising research, and how we can get academia and industry to work together to achieve greater research impact. The panel included:
- Adam Clark, CEO of Robotic Surgery Evolution
- Prof Leigh Johnston, Head of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Melbourne
- Joshua Reich, Chief Technology Officer of Seer Medical.
We also had the privilege to hear input from Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist and Director of Breakthrough Victoria, who was absent due to sickness but had kindly sent us her remarks in writing.
The Case for Research Commercialisation
Rosie Hicks, CEO of the ARDC, noted in her opening speech the need for collaboration between researchers and businesses.
“Connecting Australian researchers and business will help researchers and innovators find the people and resources they need to address some of the most pressing problems facing society, like climate change and food and energy security.”
In working together for social good, academia and industry are also empowering each other as Mr Yardley suggested.
“Research provides businesses with a real competitive advantage,” he said. Meanwhile, researchers that address real-world problems and connect with industry are cited more and better regarded.
Lost in Translation?
But while research translation has had some success in Australia – not least in giving rise to a number of sizable companies – it remains difficult.
One theme of the panel discussion was how to align the priorities of academia and industry. Mr Yardley observed that researchers are often interested in problems that businesses are not incentivised to address immediately.
Similarly, both Prof Johnston and Mr Reich noticed the different amounts of time academia and industry can afford to invest.
Another problem, brought up by Mr Clark, is the scepticism institutions like hospitals have about sharing sensitive data with businesses. Though it’s necessary to be cautious, Mr Clark pointed out, data sharing is critical to many projects.
The panel also touched on how closely universities as well as industry guard their intellectual property (IP). The challenge is for them to come to a pragmatic IP agreement when collaborating.
Bridging Research and Industry
In regards to the IP deadlock, Mr Clark drew from his success working with the University of Melbourne and proposed a split model.
As for enabling sensitive data to be shared, the panel looked to de-identification. It may be difficult for businesses to earn trust at first, but it’ll be easier once they’ve established a good reputation.
But above all, research translation takes a sense of social purpose. Citing their ambitious projects to restore vision for the visually impaired, develop synthetic tissues for robotic surgery training, and manage epilepsy, Prof Johnston, Mr Clark, and Mr Reich all spoke of how they’ve been driven by a passion to do good.
For industry, this doesn’t necessarily mean giving up profits. As Mr Reich pointed out, investing with purpose can be great for branding. It’s important, however, to make clear for businesses what’s in it for them.
The Government, the NCRIS, and the ARDC
Besides academia and industry, the panel highlighted the roles of other players in commercialising research, one of them being the government.
In her remarks, Dr Caples underlined the government’s role in supporting through policy and investment the supply of talent, tools, and technologies for businesses to use. While commenting on the financial incentives it provides from time to time to encourage the uptake of these assets, she stressed the importance of certainty.
Another key player is the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) facilities. The ARDC, for instance, is leading a number of efforts to support research translation, including:
the Translational Research Data Challenges program, which provides innovative, digital infrastructure solutions to real-world problems like bushfires and food security
Research Link Australia, which will connect industry and research using the ARDC’s Research Data Australia, an online portal for finding research data and associated projects, researchers, and services from over 100 Australian institutions
the Thematic Research Data Commons, which will develop national-scale data assets, digital tools, and platforms within specific thematic areas and help realise longer-lasting, impactful research programs.
The Next Steps
You can watch the forum in full here:
This concludes the 2022 run of the ARDC Leadership Series. We’d like to thank all our panellists and participants for making these lively and insightful conversations possible.
The ARDC Leadership Series will return in 2023 with further opportunities to tackle the defining data issues of our time. Stay tuned by subscribing to the ARDC Connect newsletter.
The ARDC is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support national digital research infrastructure for Australian researchers.