A panel of leading Australian researchers has agreed that a larger and more reliable source of funding will be critical to finding new treatments for macular disease and particularly, dry macular degeneration.
Professor Paul Mitchell, Associate Professor Gerald Liew and Professor Damien Harkin were participating in a panel discussion facilitated by Ita Buttrose, Patron of Macular Disease Foundation Australia.
Prof. Paul Mitchell said researchers are concerned that the Government may pull back on funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) now that Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund had been established.
“The worry is that although the Government is currently funding NHMRC for AU$1 billion a year they may pull back and let the Future Fund take over, and that will be a disaster… in the last budget they didn’t retract any funding but in the future, governments short of cash may say you’ve got the Future Fund so we can start pulling back on our support.”
The worry is that although the Government is currently funding NHMRC for AU$1 billion a year they may pull back and let the Future Fund take over, and that will be a disaster…
Prof. Mitchell noted there had been no backward step in funding announced in Australia’s last federal budget however there was no forward step either. He said the last increase in funding for medical research occurred under the leadership of then Prime Minister John Howard.
He said, “it would be great” if the Future Fund provides grants in addition to existing funding. The three researchers agreed that obtaining funding from the NHMRC was increasingly difficult.
“The mood is not good in early to mid-career scientists,” said Prof. Damian Harkin said. “The success rates for NHMRC project funding – the largest funds available – are now below 15 per cent when historically they have been above 25 per cent.” Prof. Mitchell elaborated. “For every 10 projects applied for, only one gets funded,” and as a result, very few people are seeking research as a career and there are very few clinicians adopting the clinician scientist approach.
A/Prof. Liew said even when funding was available for projects, additional funding had to be found to pay the researchers’ salaries, which led to a great sense of insecurity as well as inconsistency in research and loss of expertise, as researchers move from one project to another.
Prof. Mitchell said fear of blindness and ability to maintain independence through good vision is “right up there at the top of the list for the average person… Longevity is happening and we need to make sure that longevity is associated with good vision”.
The Research Symposium was hosted in Sydney as part of Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.