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An Interview with AusBiotech CEO Lorraine Chiroiu, Highlighting Innovations and Growth in the Australian Biotech Sector

by Oscar Wu
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2023 AusBiotech Conference shed light on the unprecedented growth and innovation occurring in the Australian biotechnology sector. The conference, noted as the largest stand-alone event in its history, underscored the industry’s expansion and the heightened interest in collaboration, networking, and information sharing. GeneOnline is honored to have Lorraine Chiroiu, CEO of AusBiotech, for an interview.

Largest Stand-Alone Conference Yet, Showcasing Industry Growth and Innovative Technologies

The conference represented a significant milestone in the biotech industry, with a record-breaking attendance of over 170 speakers, including notable figures like Professor Michelle Haber, an Australian scientist in the field of childhood cancer research, work in the Zero Childhood Cancer program, aiming to decrease the morbidity and mortality from childhood cancers.

Lorraine said: “The key components of the conference are the program and we’ve got 170 speakers on the program. And the networking events at last night’s dinner were 700 people with an appearance from the treasurer of Queensland, which was lovely.” Lorraine continued: “We’re now sitting at 1427 companies in the sector and 2600 plus organizations working in the broader sector. And that means the company numbers grew 40% in two years. So we’re seeing real growth now and that growth is accelerating.”

Another highlight of this conversation is the Innovation Forum and the AusMedTech. As Lorraine said: “The early stage Innovation Forum, where we profile technologies that are either just spun out of universities or medical research institutes or are about to be pre-series A technologies, and that’s a great opportunity to look at translational science and what’s on the horizon that has become.” She continued: “And it’s become a staple part of both the AusBiotech conference, but also the AusMedTech conference, which we hold in May each year, so that is a really important component.”

Resilience and Growth in the Post-Crisis Era: The Impact of the R&D Tax Incentive

The interview also touched upon the sector’s resilience and growth, particularly after the challenges posed by the global financial crisis. The introduction of the R&D tax incentive (RDTI) program has been pivotal, contributing significantly to the sector’s growth and success. 

Lorraine said: “We have just released a report (Economic impact of the Research & Development Tax Incentive for the biotech industry), which shows the value that was created and its creative productivity back to the sector of $9.1 billion Australian dollars over the 10 years that it’s been active in our country. And that value returned to the sector is growing exponentially.”

Lorraine continued: “In the first years of the incentive, it was returning $1.32 for every dollar that the tax foregone was spent. And now it’s up to $3.14 and you might want to check the media release on that one. But now it’s returning $3.14 for every dollar in tax foregone in Australia.”

(Reference: Economic impact of the Research & Development Tax Incentive for the biotech industry)

Nurturing Future Biotech Leaders: Student Training and Industry Collaboration

A significant part of the conference was dedicated to nurturing the next generation of biotech leaders, with a student training event connecting biotechnology students with industry experts. This initiative underscores the sector’s commitment to fostering talent and leadership, which not only benefits the students but also strengthens the industry by ensuring a continuous influx of skilled and knowledgeable professionals.

Lorraine said: “For the first time, a student training event, connecting students studying biotechnology in Queensland with experts from the biotech sectors, or a number of people volunteered their time to come along and talk with all the students about what their careers might look like when they graduate and what they might think about doing in the sector. Helping to nurture the next generation of biotechnology experts and leaders. So that’s a really important addition this year.”

International Collaborations and Innovations in Biotech: Emphasizing mRNA and Vaccine Development

Furthermore, the event highlighted the importance of international collaborations. The Australian biotech sector, known for its high-quality science and robust intellectual property protection, is increasingly attracting global attention. A key focus of the conference was on mRNA technology and vaccine development, areas where the Australian biotech sector has made notable advancements.

This includes innovative delivery methods, such as a vaccine patch developed by Vaxess Technologies, showcasing the cutting-edge research and development capabilities within the sector. The discussion with Lorraine around mRNA technology and vaccine development at the conference likely highlighted the sector’s contributions to these fields and its potential for future innovations.

Lorraine said: “mRNA vaccine on that patch means that they’re having to put it into powder form, which provides thermos stability. And that’s a really exciting development because if we can get thermos stability around vaccines means that they’re accessible to countries and supply chains that otherwise would not be, as it would not be possible because of cold chain provisions.”

Australia’s Emerging Role in Global Biotech: Clinical Trials, Startups, and Therapeutic Advancements

The conference’s success and the sector’s growth reflect Australia’s growing influence in the global biotechnology landscape, marked by a surge in clinical trials, new startups, and advancements in therapeutics.

Lorraine mentioned: “We’ve got Doctor Chris talking about the journey from discovery of the JAK inhibitor that started in Melbourne 20 years ago, and has just been approved by the FDA in the past couple of weeks as a product called Ojjaara”.

“Ojjaara” (momelotinib) is an FDA-approved oral medication for adults with myelofibrosis (MF) and anemia. It is the first and only treatment in the U.S. for both newly diagnosed and previously treated myelofibrosis patients, addressing symptoms like anemia and splenomegaly. Ojjaara functions as a JAK1/JAK2 and activin A receptor inhibitor, targeting the underlying abnormal signaling in this rare blood cancer.

AusBiotech Conference – A Catalyst for Biotech Excellence and Future Prospects

In conclusion, the AusBiotech Conference has become a vital platform for showcasing Australia’s burgeoning biotech sector, with its focus on innovation, international collaboration, and policy initiatives setting a strong foundation for future growth and success.

References:

1.https://www.ausbiotech.org/

2.https://www.ausmedtech.com.au/

3.https://www.biopharm.org.tw/images/blog/2023/1002/Site%20tour%20brochure%20-%20Ausbiotech%20-%2020%20Sep.pdf

4.https://www.zerochildhoodcancer.org.au/about

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