Medical research: one fund to rule them all?

The Medical Research Future Fund and the endowment account of the National Health and Medical Research Council award $1.5bn in annual grants between them and the Commonwealth is asking for views on three nominated ways they could work better together.

Responses on options to “align and coordinate” the two peak funding agencies are due on Friday.

The discussion dates from the creation of the MRFF when Labor senators, then in Opposition, feared the new fund independently allocating grants, “has the potential to undermine the NHMRC.”

Ever since the founding of the Fund, many in the medical research community have disliked the MRFF Advisory Board being explicitly excluded from decisions made by the Health Minister.

Now the influential 59-member Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has declared its preference.

The options proposed by the Commonwealth Department of Health are:

  • separate management of the funds but with an overarching coordination mechanism:
  • the NHMRC manages both; or
  • the two funds are merged under the Council’s control.

AAMRI is calling for the funds to stay separate with their “unique objectives” maintained, but both managed by the NHMRC.

“If the administration of Australia’s health and medical research funding system continues in its current disjointed form, we risk significant ongoing waste of effort and resources,” AAMRI announces.

“The Council funds researcher-driven projects while the MRFF sets priorities and allocates resources to bids meeting them.”

And this is but the beginning – with Health and Aged Care ministers Mark Butler and Ged Kearney stating the agency reorganisation will be followed by “a coordinated plan for health and medical research in Australia.”

This will involve the states and territories, philanthropy, “other key government investments” plus “the government’s broader vision for Australian science and research.”



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