Professor Stephen Haswell talks about funding from a public-private research fund supported by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the NFMRI and how this will further enable his lab-on-a-chip technology
It has taken a long academic career consisting of over 60 research grants split approximately 50:50 between government and industry, amounting to around $40m to finally discover a funding organisation that has joined up all the dots in terms of supporting research through discovery, innovation to commercialisation. It is all about the right funding for the right ideas at the right time. The real striking benefit for me of NFMRI support is the experience, vision and leadership that comes with an organisation committed to turning research into impact. Having spent most of my academic research career in UK universities, it is not uncommon to take a project to the point of demonstrating novel and exciting ways of exploiting science only to become stranded in a no man’s land with funding organisations that will not support commercial development on one side and industry who are hesitant in adopting and developing disruptive technology on the other. Whilst there has been some positive moves over the past decade in Europe to create bridging funding and increase industrial involvement, such funding invariably lacks real business focus and support and expects too much of the academic and typically involves SME industrial partners who are often ill-equipped or resourced to realise a real impact. In stark contrast, it was a breath of fresh air to discover the funding model adopted by the NFMRI, which pro-actively engages with promising basic research related to the field of medicine and supports its successful development seamlessly through the proof of concept and valley of death to commercially viable investment. This represents a true team effort involving the funding organisation, commercial investors and researchers focused on scientific and economic success. Most importantly for the philanthropic community that supports this type of funding is that it represents money gifted with purpose and managed for success and impact. One important aspect that the NFMRI recognised is the need to support cross-sector collaborations. Accordingly through a recently awarded Original Innovation and Discovery Grant funded via a public-private research partnership between the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and the NFMRI, our multidisciplinary research will be able to advance to the next stage of commercialisation. The funding will enable an impressive team drawn from chemistry, biology, engineering, manufacturing and end users to work with NFMRI and NSW DPI to develop novel lab-on-a-chip technology that will represent a paradigm shift in the provision of medical diagnostics and care, filling a great unmet need. In order to develop this futuristic technology the team will focus on influenza as a relevant example of so called zoonotic diseases that can transfer between animal and man. With around 75 per cent of emerging human infectious diseases coming from animals, this technology will have major benefits for both human health and the Nation’s primary industries. Whilst the ability to develop low-cost, information-rich diagnostics that interface with smart phone technology and can be used at point of need (e.g. remote field clinics) represents innovative and highly relevant technology, this current research will also address the significant challenges associated with effective device design, manufacture and data management. It is not so much about “will it work”, but “what is the best way for fabricate manufacture and package completely new technology with commercial relevance”. As the project progresses we expect to work closely with NFMRI and their associates in ensuring the effective translation of basic research through the establishment of an innovative manufacturing capability that will provide lab-on-a-chip technology for much needed, medically relevant futuristic applications. Professor Stephen Haswell is the Chair in Sensors and Microfluidics at Deakin University’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures. Professor Haswell’s research was featured on Channel 7’s Today Tonight and footage can be viewed here. This topic will form part of our conference program discussion at our inaugural Medical Research Innovation Conference on 9-10 September 2015 in Sydney.