A comparison between New Zealand and Australia’s approach to biotech shows we’re doing a lot of things right, but that government support for the sector in New Zealand could be improved. New Zealand biotech leaders say that if a comprehensive government strategy isn’t prioritised soon, the sector will continue to fall behind in many areas.
“Both countries have exceptional researchers and huge potential to be leaders in biotech. However, the biotech research landscape in Australia is backed with far more government funding and resourcing,” says John Robson, General Manager of Bridgewest Ventures New Zealand.
“We have a unique opportunity to learn from the successes of Australia, and to seek to influence policy at this important time as the new government pursues input from industry and examples of successful models. New Zealand needs to invest more into the biotech research landscape to maximise innovation, and time is of the essence,” Robson says.
A 2020 New Zealand Biotechnology Sector Survey by BioTechNZ identified that access to capital was considered, by far, the most significant constraint for both research and commercialisation activities.
“Not only does Australia provide higher investment capital into research and commercialisation, it also does very well at marketing itself as a place to innovate. So it’s not that we don’t have a good offering, but that Australia is better at communicating the benefits of conducting research there, and the associated tax benefits available, and this has gained them better visibility globally,” says Robson.
Robson points to the recently published AusBiotech Biotechnology Blueprint which provides an outline of the next 10 years for the Australian Biotechnology Industry. Access to capital to support commercialisation and clinical development is a key factor in the growth of the sector, and this is included along with eight core, critical areas of focus. These strategic recommendations, says Robson, are identical to the issues in New Zealand and we should seek to follow their lead starting with a greater focus on public private partnerships, and building out sovereign capabilities with investment in new infrastructure.
Dr Zahra Champion, Executive Director of BioTechNZ, also says we need to be doing more to showcase New Zealand’s capability and that the Government should increase support to the biotech sector to create a scalable, thriving and vibrant ecosystem that will attract global attention.
“NZ also has a rich history in agriculture, human and animal health, however, Australia earned themselves a solid reputation internationally, by creating long-term strategies and roadmaps,” says Champion.
With a 10-year health research strategy still being worked through, it’s alarming to both Robson and Champion that to-date a biotech-specific government strategy paper is missing; however, it is promising with the new coalition government, and with the National Party policy document titled Harnessing Biotech published last year.
“Some of the pressure points for the New Zealand Government, include enhanced funding, lack of infrastructure and training, retaining and attracting talent, which we can learn from Australia’s intensive capital government investments in the biotech sector,” says Champion.