The future of medical research: why a state focus matters

27 April 2023

The Queensland health and medical research sector may think it lags behind other Australian states, but Health Translation Queensland (HTQ) Executive Director Professor John Prins sees plenty of room for optimism.

Before returning to Queensland to lead HTQ, Professor Prins was Head of the Melbourne Medical School at the University of Melbourne. Soon after his return to Queensland, he spoke about the lessons learned from Melbourne at a TRI Director’s Choice Seminar.

“There is a perception, confirmed by HTQ’s analysis, that Queensland does not receive the national health and medical research funding proportionate to its population’s needs,” Professor Prins said.

“So, it’s useful to consider how different states, like Victoria, approach research and funding, but we also must remember that each state has distinct challenges and advantages.

“Fundamental differences in population, geography and other factors make it impossible for a one-size-fits-all approach across Australia. Queensland has a vast geography and a dispersed regional population. While this creates challenges in health service delivery and research – it also provides opportunities to excel in data sharing, telehealth and health equity. We must capitalise on our strengths such as Queensland’s statewide integrated electronic medical record and statewide pathology service.

“Queensland also has fewer health and hospital services and primary health networks, which gives us a better chance of aligning their research efforts.”

Professor Prins was based in Victoria’s buzzing biomedical precinct – the Parkville precinct – the likes of which, he said, we do not yet have in Queensland.

“The co-location of universities, hospitals, complementary health institutes and allied industries makes collaboration easier. But the buzz is created by more than that. There is also extensive cross-sector representation at the board level in Melbourne, and when it comes to politics, the precinct hunts as a pack. By this, I mean they advocate with one voice to government at all levels and invest in how to be successful with national funding bodies. Queensland can learn from this strategic collaboration,” Professor Prins said.

“I am a firm believer that collaboration in health and medical research leads to better outcomes than competing. Look at the expectations of health and medical research funders and the community – they have changed. More than ever, they emphasise impact, outputs and return on investment.

“Governments are increasingly prioritising funding for collaborative research projects. To achieve this in Queensland, we need greater collective effort across sectors and including the involvement of community and health consumers.”

For Professor Prins, one of the biggest lessons from Melbourne is the need to invest in people, particularly students and early career researchers, in fundamental and clinical research.

“Melbourne has a strong academic culture in teaching hospitals. In Queensland, we need greater acceptance of, and support for, students in our health care environments and accommodation of different models of working, such as part-time research for clinicians,” he said.

“At HTQ, we’re investigating how to grow Queensland’s researcher talent pipeline. We have started work on a pilot program for a coordinated pathway for training clinician researchers called Queensland Training for Research Active Clinicians (QTRAC).

“This is modelled on MACH-Track – a program still in its infancy in Melbourne but it is already developing career pathways for exceptional research-minded health practitioners.

“These programs take a great deal of collective effort to initiate, but the aim is to gradually build a pool of research-active clinical innovators who will become future health care leaders.

“It is simpler, but still not easier, to build these programs at a state level, but ultimately we are investing in the health and medical research sector for the benefit of our whole nation.”

You can watch Professor Prins’ full presentation.

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