3AW Talking Health interview with Sally Cockburn
Sunday, 5 February 2017
Topics: Launch of the Turnbull Government’s $125 million NHMRC funding into medical research
Welcome and congratulations on your new portfolio. You were previously the Environment Minister and now you’re looking after Health. We love it.
Look, it’s an incredible portfolio. And over the last six months I also had responsibility for science and innovation so I’d been working a lot with, not just the medical research community, but the biomedical community.
So the people who are taking the discoveries and translating them to devices, to new drug therapies, also to new means of diagnosing problems.
So to be able to come from that space where I was looking at the biotech side and directly into the medical community, that’s just a real thrill.
And to me it’s all about how do you get the outcomes for patients? To talk a lot about mental health because the size and scope of the problem is, I think, even bigger than so many of us realise and to have ways through with more front line workers on that space or in that space.
So you announced on World Cancer Day an amazing new suite grant funding of research. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Sure, so we have something called the National Health and Medical Research Council, the NH and MRC, through them we’ve announced for the first time $125 million of new grants.
That’s basically $39 million goes to cancer research, $30 million to dementia research and treatment, $12 million to indigenous health where we’ve got great progress but still huge gaps to close.
And almost $10 million for mental health research. Perhaps one of the most exciting is what we saw at Peter MacCallum yesterday where the brilliant researchers led by Professor Joe Trapani …
He’s blushing. He’s with me in the room and he’s blushing...
Oh right! Well then how are you going, Joe? I hadn’t realised that.
G’day, Minister. It’s great to hear you and speak to you again today.
I hadn’t introduced him yet…
They’re taking, and he’ll explain it better than me, a field or discipline that was really pioneered by the great Australian Macfarlane-Burnett who won a Nobel Prize called immunotherapy.
And essentially, that’s teaching the body cells and triggering them to fight back against cancer. It’s a whole new discipline within the field of oncology, of cancer research and treatment. And their project is a $13 million project and this literally saves lives and transforms lives.
Well I must say that that’s what this show is about. We thought it was a fairly complex topic and I heard about, and I’m sure everyone listening heard about it on the news, so we’re going to spend two hours unpicking it, discussing it, and telling everyone what immunotherapy is and how it works.
So I’m sure that $13 million will go a long way to changing that into, well you say, translating it into actual cases that can be treated which is wonderful.
But look I have to ask you, Minister, on the Twitter – you can always tell when it’s going to be a hard question when they say, Minister, don’t you, Greg?
Twitter sort of came alive when I said I was having you on the show and I just want to clear something up. These are new grants? Someone has made the statement that, are these just old grants that have been recycled?
No, no. They’re completely new grants. So it’s 110 grants, $125 million and all of them are new and not previously announced in any way, shape or form.
And they come via the NH and MRC which of course is a robust body for making sure that the research that is funded is independent and is useful and is ethical.
Yes. So we have three big medical research funds in Australia, the biggest at this point of time is the NH and MRC.
That makes its decisions, its empowered by the Government on a set of priorities but it does the individual assessment. It should be done by the highest quality professionals.
Indeed, the CEO is Professor Anne Kelso and the chair is Professor Bruce Robinson, these are just some of Australia’s great medical leaders.
And they do the actual assessment, determination, then it’s ticked off by the ministers.
We have the Medical Research Future Fund, which is going to grow to be a $20 billion fund, and from that you’ll have the best part of $500 million a year once it’s fully mature, it is $800 million over the next four.
And then we just set up, and it’s something that I set up along with Sussan Ley, my predecessor, a Biomedical Translation Fund which is about investment in new technologies which will come to market to benefit patients. So that’s the big medical research framework for Australia.
Indeed. Now, one of the things, of course, that we’re very proud of in Victoria is that you’re actually Victorian and you are a Member of Parliament for us in our state and it’s great to have a local person in the health portfolio.
But I tell you what, as a GP, I loved your opening statements that you made when you got the gig.
Well I’ve come from a family which has been very engaged in the medical profession. My mother was a nurse, my wife is a nurse, my grandmother was a pioneering pharmacist in the 1930s.
She was a real sort of early advocate for women, she wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, but boy she was in the real sense of doing amazing things as a pioneer and a breakthrough.
She said well, why shouldn’t I? And my uncle is a dentist. But I said I want to be a minister for GPs…
And don’t you think we don’t note that? We note that.
And now I’ve had three conversations with each of the head of the College of GPs – the Royal Australian College of GPs – Bastian Seidel, and three with Michael Gannon who’s the head of the AMA on the phone as well as a meeting with each of them.
We’re just working through what I’ve called a long term national health plan and pillar one is the universal access to Medicare and doctors and medicine.
Pillar two is about strengthening the hospital system. The third area is mental health and preventive health. Hugely important to me but much more importantly the country and the fourth is medical research.
Oh exactly and I mean they are the pillars, they underpin everything and look it’s just great to just you know get kick-starting with something like this.
I’m sure as minister it must be great to have some good news to come out with first off.
Well we were able, through what’s called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, most people would know but for those that don’t, that’s how drugs are made available which could be hugely expensive to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
And so just this week, on Wednesday, we were able to make available two new drugs amongst others for ovarian cancer and lung cancer which would normally cost people $100,000 a year, now they’ll be available for $38.80 or $6.30 for a concessional script and that changes lives again.
Oh Greg, I think sometimes people whinge about the system but I have to tell you there’s not many places in the world you can get care the way we get it in Australia.
And I’m using Peter MacCallum as the fabulous example. I mean to be able to treat cancer the way we do, I mean you hear about people in America trying to get money to do it, this is just great and all power to you and you colleagues and all power to you for supporting this
Alright it’s a real pleasure and there you’ve got Joe in his own right a brilliant researcher but he represents, I think, one of the world’s great cancer research institutions but more than that, they treat people and save lives.
And two patients that we met yesterday who had basically what had previously been incurable cancers and they are living, walking, breathing examples of the miracle of Australian medicine at its absolute best.
Absolutely. Look thank you so much for your time, Greg, on a Sunday night, really appreciate it and thank you for the work you’re doing and we’ll be holding you to the GP thing.
Absolutely pleasure and happy to chat any time.