Australia's life science sector: paving the way through collaboration and innovation
Rosie Silk
Manager, R&D Tax Services

Before the pandemic, the life science sector and emerging health technologies were rarely topics of discussion at the family dinner table. However, recent years have raised the sector’s profile as a key player in the shared battle to understand and fight viruses, and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities. 

From the expedited development of vaccines to progress in diagnostic testing, life sciences have been instrumental in our crisis response. This transformation extends beyond laboratories and healthcare facilities to influence public discussion, funding allocation, and even career aspirations for emerging scientists.

In Australia, the priority of health technologies and advances in biotech, medtech and pharmaceuticals has clearly risen as our life sciences firms and academic institutions continue to make important contributions to global initiatives. Supported by a strong healthcare system and dedication to research, Australia has realised tangible advancements in all of these areas.

Like many sectors, life sciences faces skills shortages which is largely due to reduced migration and limited investment in job-specific training. Despite these challenges, our focus must shift towards strategic planning – making the most of new and existing innovations to solidify Australia's role as a future hub in fields like healthtech, medtech and biotechnology.

Uniting government, industry and academia for biotech progress

Across Australia, the life science sector is experiencing robust growth which is being bolstered by concerted efforts from government, private industry, and academic institutions. 

In the past year alone, Victoria has made headlines with several encouraging initiatives. Examples include the establishment of the following:

  • Moderna’s state-of-the-art vaccine facility in collaboration with Monash University
  • The Jumar Bioincubator to nurture start-ups – located in CSL’s new Global HQ and Centre for R&D with support from industry (CSL), research (the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), and academia (University of Melbourne). 
  • The Medtech Skills and Device Hub – aimed at accelerating medical technology development, with support from the Victorian Government and a consortium led by the University of Melbourne (which includes Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University and Australia’s first collaborative, hospital-based biomedical engineering research centre, the Aitkenhead Centre for Medical Discovery). 

Also worth a mention is PrOSPeCT: Omico’s landmark program for precision oncology trials based out of the University of New South Wales in collaboration with global pharmaceutical and diagnostic company Roche, the National Computational Infrastructure at ANU, and the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia. In addition, Queensland’s $280 million Translational Science Hub will be delivered in collaboration with global healthcare company Sanofi, the University of Queensland, Griffith University, and the Queensland Government. 

As one of the top 10 countries in the world for contributions to life sciences research, with globally recognised regulatory pathways to help expedite studies and world-class research expertise and infrastructure, Australia is quickly becoming a premier destination for companies in health and life sciences.  

Generous government support – including more than $21.5 billion in funds for life sciences initiatives and incentives (such as the R&D Tax Incentive delivering up to 43.5% in refundable tax offsets, or 48.5% in limited cases) and other grants programs – are all contributing to the significant pull for investment in Australia's research landscape and acting as key drivers for long-term sustainable growth.The potential is enormous. More than 192 life sciences companies are now listed on the ASX and the market capitalisation is estimated to be $233 billion. This offers a significant draw for investment, with the added promise of creating over 80,000 new jobs in the next 10 years.

With all of this in mind, the question isn't whether we should continue to invest in health and life sciences, but how much and how quickly can we channel more resources to seize such a valuable opportunity?

Tackling the talent gap 

Addressing the talent shortfall to sustain this level of investment in biotech and life sciences presents a challenge and an opportunity. 

While the pandemic has adversely affected Australia's pull for international experts, the easing of restrictions opens doors for us to come up with innovative talent acquisition strategies. Inspiring the next generation to delve into life sciences such as biotechnology, healthtech and medtech is more of a long-term vision, but definitely one that holds promise. 

Life science corporations are implementing their own training programs for fresh university graduates, which plays a pivotal role in expanding and diversifying the talent pool. Capitalising on the transferable skills of individuals with experience in life sciences or related fields is another pragmatic approach to counter skills shortages. By creating pathways for those who may have left the sector, we can allow them to reintegrate and contribute their skills in new and exciting ways.

Australian universities are also offering Master programs tailored to the industry’s unique needs (such as commercialisation of biotechnology products, clinical research, regulatory affairs, and so on) to address the global workforce crisis. The aim is to provide graduates with both the scientific and commercial acumen required to assist companies to move from research phases through to translation and commercialisation. 

Additionally, a number of Australian universities have recently launched work integrated learning programs as part of their undergraduate courses. This equips students with formal work experience in scientific fields – giving them vital insights to prepare for their future professional journeys, while allowing them to showcase their skills to prospective employers.

Partnering with RSM for biotech success

At RSM, we offer comprehensive partnership opportunities for life science firms at all developmental stages: from R&D right through to clinical trials and value realisation.

Our range of services include:

  • expert consultancy in life sciences including biotech, medtech, and pharmaceuticals
  • specialised advice on the R&D tax incentive to maximise your returns
  • expertise in establishing low risk, local R&D operations 
  •  integrated, multidisciplinary support for every stage of your product's lifecycle
  • international tax guidance for inbound and outbound operations
  • access to our expansive international network and specialists

We collaborate with both local and international enterprises in the biotech sector, offering invaluable insights and practical solutions for those aiming to establish their presence in Australia while navigating the local regulatory landscape.

To learn more, please contact our life sciences team led by Dr Rita Choueiri, National Director – Life Sciences at RSM Australia – on 03 9286 8000  or visit Life Sciences at RSM.