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Super cities are not just rocket science

Resource type: News

The Australian | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

We must future-proof our economy with knowledge and innovation: THIS month Brisbane sends a powerful global message that it is more than just one of Australia’s most liveable cities and among the world’s top 50 cities.

Construction begins on the Translational Research Institute, a medical complex that will nestle into Brisbane’s south as a crown jewel in Queensland’s mega-technological hub.

This confirms Brisbane’s place alongside Melbourne and Sydney as one of Australia’s super cities and a magnet that attracts the best brains in the world to Australia.

The days of Australia’s brain drain through a lack of opportunity have come to an end as the rise of our super cities makes the nation a base of innovation and creativity in the Asia-Pacific.

Brisbane, as the capital of the Smart State, was once the butt of Sydney and Melbourne jokes. It was portrayed as little more than a large country town, albeit with a wonderful outdoor lifestyle, and stymied creatively and intellectually by a narrow political climate that saw a mass exodus of talent interstate and overseas. That is a thing of the past.

Thanks to investments from successive state governments and the Brisbane City Council, the Brisbane River is a source of community: a new State Library and Gallery of Modern Art, the biggest such gallery in the southern hemisphere, and two pedestrian bridges. Brisbane is truly an international city. Surrounding the central business district, 20 thematic world-class research institutes have been created, fostering science and technology.

The TRI will open in October 2012 as the first of its kind in Australia and one of only a few institutes of this size in the world dedicated to translating scientific discoveries into applications for medical practice.

Adjacent to the TRI will be BioPharmaceuticals Australia, the country’s only scaled-up manufacturing plant for advanced biologics, or medicinal products, for therapy and diagnosis.

This $360 million investment initiated in 2006 will entrench Brisbane further in innovation.

The TRI is a collaborative venture between the University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology, the Mater Medical Research Institute and Princess Alexandra Hospital. It will house 1000 researchers in cross-disciplinary teams to discover, produce, clinically test and make new biopharmaceuticals and treatments in one place. It was funded jointly by the Queensland and federal governments, QUT and Chuck Feeney’s US-based Atlantic Philanthropies.

Ian Frazer, Australian of the Year in 2006 and one of the brains behind Gardasil, the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and his team have been a driving force in the formation of the new institute.

It will be part of an integrated knowledge precinct that will house various research organisations, including national centres of excellence in pharmaceutical sciences, prostate cancer, trauma, transplant and diabetes, and will play a vital role in Brisbane’s economic growth.

It will join the ranks of Australia’s other world-class research institutes in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth and reinforce not just the importance of super cities but also of fostering and commercialising knowledge to our economic growth.

Queensland has gone from a backwater to a global magnet for scientists as a result of investment. Whoever would have thought Brisbane would become known internationally for its brains?

As these institutions mature, they will reinforce the need for Australian governments of all political persuasions to incorporate into their economic strategies the knowledge-based activities that account for half of long-term economic growth in advanced industrial countries. Smart countries and states planning for the future know new jobs and growth in incomes increasingly are linked with innovation, information and knowledge.

Any economy that does not invest in these areas is destined to be left behind and risks becoming second or third-world by the end of the century.

With world-class research institutions, Australia offers countries such as China and India more than just our natural resources of coal, iron ore and natural gas.

Our research institutions can partner in clinical trials in drug development; expansion of alternative fuels using algae, biofuels, solar, geothermal and clean coal technology; education services; environmental management; urban planning; building design to minimise energy consumption; water conservation; transport systems; mining services and systems; and agricultural biotechnology in crops and animals.

One of the most important relationships in any economy is the one between government, private industry and research universities. Commercialisation of research stimulates economic activity and demand for builders, painters, electricians, architects, lawyers and so on. The flow-on effects attract knowledge-intensive industries with the assurance of an ongoing cultivation of a talent pool for robust skills and longevity of their businesses.

During the recent global financial crisis Australia did not go into recession because of the sound base of our economy.

Continuing to broaden and diversify our economic base by investing in research and knowledge industries is a safety net against economic downturns.

This year a report for the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation calculated that the Queensland life sciences sector alone employed 19,731 people, with 13,442 (68 per cent) of those employed by private industry.

The report also found $1.08 billion was spent on salaries by the Queensland industry last financial year including $149m by research organisations and $929m by companies.

Further, the average salary of employees in life sciences was estimated at $77,732, compared with an Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated average across all industries in Queensland of $61,464. The estimated total income across the entire Queensland life sciences industry was $4.94bn in last financial year. This is 58 per cent higher than the $3.13bn estimate in 2007.

Research and development spending was estimated at $803m, 52 per cent from research organisations and the rest from companies.

A total of 143 complete patent applications were filed by, or granted, last year, 17 per cent to research organisations and 83 per cent to companies. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, 1292 US utility patents were granted to Australian inventors in 2008.

Queensland’s record in commercialising research includes the first cervical cancer vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix; Peplin’s trials for a skin cancer compound; Alchemia’s trials for metastatic colorectal cancer treatment; and Implicit Bioscience’s trials for an immune response regulator against hepatitis C.

The Queensland government announced in May it would invest $25m in a venture capital fund with global biopharmaceutical leader Eli Lilly and other US partners. The total value of the fund is $US250m ($258m), to be used in the commercialisation of research in Australia.

One of the country’s long-term economic objectives should be to future-proof the economy with knowledge, creativity and innovation. Such a vision will necessitate the support of government, the private sector and our research universities in planning and investment.

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