The time is now for collaborative health and medical research

23 February 2023

With an accomplished career spanning clinical practice, academia and commercialisation, Professor John Prins firmly believes that now is a better time than any for collaborative health and medical research projects to thrive in Queensland.

“Over the past five years, we have seen several factors driving change and creating a more conducive environment for collaboration,” Professor Prins said.

“Governments (to varying degrees) have recognised that academia and health services are not designed to take ideas and translate them. They see the need for investment in commercial machinery that accelerates research and takes it to market. To this end, governments are increasingly only funding collaborative research projects.

“Across all sectors, we also now appreciate that by removing waste and duplication, we can free up resources that can be re-directed elsewhere for greater benefit. When budgets are tight, this effort is increasingly important.

“Another major driver is sustainability. We now have improved ways to measure this and can see its benefits, which include freeing up money to do good things – whether that’s providing care to more people in the hospital system or expanding research programs,” he said.

Professor Prins wrote the first application to the National Health and Medical Research Council for Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners, which later became Health Translation Queensland. He was interim CEO during its early days from 2015-2016 and returned in 2023 to lead the network again.

“I have always been a collaborator rather than a competitor. It makes logical sense to combine our efforts in Queensland, especially as we are all trying to achieve the same thing – better health outcomes. That hasn’t changed since 2016,” Professor Prins said.

“Today, there is a more urgent need to work together effectively. Health Translation Queensland’s role is to influence this collaboration. Collaboration may require additional work for individuals or organisations, but ultimately it means our network will create a greater health impact.

“Australia is years behind Europe and the US, and Queensland’s collaborative pathways are less mature than other states. Through my experience interstate, I have seen other mechanisms of collaboration that will help here, but Queensland has a unique set of challenges, and we need to forge our path.

“Health Translation Queensland exists to make translational research easier and more effective. In some respects, we are a match-making service and if we do this well, it creates efficiencies for everyone. For example, the Queensland Government can come to us to seek input or address a problem rather than having to go to a number of separate health, academic or research organisations. Or our hospitals, where health professionals know the issues but may not have the skills or resources to solve them, can approach us for help."

Professor Prins sees Health Translation Queensland playing a key role in strengthening Queensland’s expertise by drawing on the capabilities of its partners and beyond.

“HTQ can help coordinate important components of research translation, like ethics and governance, where we’re seeing people come from across the state and interstate for training. As part of the Australian Health Research Alliance, we must also ensure these initiatives enhance Queensland’s expertise and that of our nation.”

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