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copy of last nights abc 7.30 report

  1. 94 Posts.

    Hopes medical breakthroughs a financial boon for Aust
    Reporter: Tim Lester

    There has been a stream of medical breakthroughs announced at the world's biggest bio-technology conference in Washington DC over the past few days, mostly by Australians. The announcements, such as trials to stimulate the body's immune system and significantly enhance the fight against cancer, are the culmination of years of hard work but science is only part of the equation. Now the task, also, is to extract the best financial result for Australia for these world-leading advances. Of course, there are those who have more personal reasons to cheer the news.

    BERNIE HASSETT: I'm very strongly in support of Australian companies, Australian scientists getting the benefit of innovative research.

    TIM LESTER: Bernie Hassett is a living testament to a lucrative idea.

    12 months ago the Melbourne engineer was dying.


    He had acute myeloid leukaemia, which is a potentially fatal illness, which is sometimes cured by chemotherapy, but not often.

    BERNIE HASSETT: I was told that my type of leukaemia has a very high probability of relapse without a transplant, so I was lucky that I had my sister as a donor.

    TIM LESTER: Lucky too that doctors recruited him to trial a striking Australian technology in the infection-prone days just after his bone marrow transplant.

    DR TONY SCHWARER: We have lots of troubles and we lose patients because of the infectious problems after it.

    So anything that can improve that and decrease that as a complication without causing much in the way of toxicity is a wonderful advance.

    BERNIE HASSETT: I've had very minor infections.

    Some people have had terrible problems with infections.

    TIM LESTER: The treatment that seems to have shielded Bernie Hassett and 39 other cancer patients in the Melbourne trial is on show in Washington at this week's Bio 2003 convention.

    Half its beauty is in its simplicity.

    Monash University researchers found by using drugs already on the market to switch off a patient's sex steroids they could refire the immune system.

    PROFESSOR RICHARD BOYD, MONASH UNIVERSITY: If you've got any condition where the immune system has been challenged, then it is a sensible first-up therapy.

    TIM LESTER: And there is the other half of its beauty - it's likely mass appeal among doctors worldwide not only for use in cancer patients.

    What about immune compromised AIDS patients or any illness where the immune system falters, and even healthy people who just need an immune boost, like Hong Kong's health workers as they risk their lives containing the SARS virus.

    PROFESSOR RICHARD BOYD: You might consider those people would take a pre-emptive strike.

    TIM LESTER: Just thinking about the Monash technique's potential market every year -

    PROFESSOR RICHARD BOYD: It obviously would run into the millions.

    TIM LESTER: ..and the money every patient would pay..

    PETER HANSEN, NORWOOD ABBEY: A couple of thousand US dollars for their treatment.

    TIM LESTER: enough to make Australia's infant biotech industry drool.

    The 300 or so Aussie biotechnology businesses formed in the last decade have enjoyed a minor stock market rally in recent weeks, biotech stocks jumping almost one-third in three months amid talk of new discoveries and drug company partnerships.

    JOHN O'CONNELL, BIOTECHNOLOGY ANALYST: It is a huge intellectual property sector so it is an area that we should certainly look at in terms of developing.

    It's also an area that doesn't have any problems with the tyranny of distance, which is one of Australia's issues about if it was to develop products.

    You effectively are developing intellectual property products.

    TIM LESTER: In the middle of the excitement, this company east of Melbourne is talking up the Monash work.

    It has sunk millions into developing and patenting not even a new drug but a new idea on using an old drug.

    PETER HANSEN: We're in commercial negotiations with pharmaceutical companies with respect to the licensing of this technology.

    PROFESSOR DON METCALF, CELL BIOLOGIST: We have realised that it's not much good discovering something and even patenting it.

    That at best will assure you of a small royalty on sales in the US.

    TIM LESTER: For decades, Melbourne's cell biologist Don Metcalf studied a family of hormones known as CSFs.

    NEWSREEL REPORTER: Just how do you research scientists attack this problem, where?

    NEWSREEL, METCALF: Well, there are obviously a number of different points of attack.

    TIM LESTER: His team's pioneering work earned a patent now worth $5 million a year, but that's a barely a drop in the bucket of money now paid for drugs developed overseas on the back of Metcalf's discoveries.

    PROFESSOR DON METCALF: Oh, $2 billion a year, $2 billion, billion.

    TIM LESTER: So why did Australia sell science that now earns the GDP of a small country?

    PROFESSOR DON METCALF: It's not stupidity, it's not lack of foresight.

    It's numbers.

    TIM LESTER: No Australian company could afford to take a drug through the US approval process.

    JOHN O'CONNELL: You can be looking anything from US$300 million up to US$800 million.

    PETER HANSEN: It's a crying shame that a lot of research in Australia, very, very good medical research, has managed to slip out of this country without due return or due regard to the worth or the value of that technology.

    It won't happen in this case.

    TIM LESTER: Not in the Monash case.

    In fact, not in most cases, if you believe the parade of Australian politicians and biotech promoters in Washington this week.

    STEVE BRACKS, VICTORIAN PREMIER: Our ambition is to be the hub and centre of biotechnology in our region and to be amongst the top five bio-technology precincts in the world by 2010.

    PROFESSOR DON METCALF: Market factors still obtain.

    You can develop a product in Australia, test it for clinical use, but it will still stall because to be licensed in the US it's got to be developed and certified in the US.

    TIM LESTER: The billion-dollar drug approval hurdle remains, though Australia's emerging biotech sector will help the country hang on to discoveries longer and profit more.

    JOHN O'CONNELL: A small biotech company who doesn't have the resources or wherewithal to develop its own sales and marketing franchise around the world will look at who is the best player, who is best positioned in the specific niche my drug is in to take my drug forward and basically to get me the best economic returns.

    TIM LESTER: Some are even turning the old problem on its head, buying into American science.

    PETER HANSEN: We currently are developing four projects, three which we've sourced from the US, from Boston.

    TIM LESTER: Beyond the biotech industry and the billions riding on new discoveries are patients like Bernie Hassett.

    Doctors now tell him he has a 70 per cent chance of not relapsing.

    BERNIE HASSETT: I got used to saying to people, "There's no way I can die because my friends and family would kill me", so I just wasn't in a position.

    TIM LESTER: He's still not sure what drove his recovery but he's glad the Monash science on immunity stayed in Australia long enough for last year's trial.

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