Alexander Gosling on collaboration
Alexander Gosling was a panellist at the Health Collab Symposium and spoke about collaboration. With years of experience in collaborating across universities in Australia, he is a renowned industry expert in technology commercialisation and works in the corporate and start up sector. He is a director of Invetech and a non-executive director of medical device company, Micro-X Ltd.
Gosling works on commercialisation projects in collaboration with researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, University of Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology, University of South Australia, Flinders University and Adelaide University to name a few.
“I primarily work with the University of Sydney and Swinburne. I work with universities more widely through my involvement with two Co-operative Research Centres (CRCs). One of these has developed a possible cure for cancer, now being commercialised in a spin-out, Carina Biotech Pty Ltd. It’s a new technology we are keen to commercialise. It could possibly be the ‘holy grail’,” says Gosling.
This exciting cancer research is the result of scientists experiencing what Gosling calls, “a complete change of mindset” at the Cell Therapy Manufacturing CRC. He says Micro-X, is also looking to work with universities to collaborate on a few longer-term research questions.
“Peter Yaron, Research and Development Lead at Micro-X, who attended the symposium, works closely with universities to build collaborations,” Gosling explains.
“Establishing terms, conditions and obtaining an agreement is the major barrier to collaboration with universities. Negotiations become complex when you need to tap into resources from different research laboratories or worse still, different faculties,” says Gosling.
“You often have to deal with layers of university bureaucracy before you can get a final agreement. You often also end up arm wrestling over intellectual property, budgets, and establishing who carries project risk. It’s a difficult process,” he says.
“It can take six months when it should take two days. It’s frustrating for all parties, including university staff. It’s a big barrier that people don’t even attempt to negotiate. If you are an SME, life is too short. If you are Boeing you can afford to consider it and take two years to establish an agreement - but it is quite a barrier,” he explains.
Gosling says working with hospitals is less likely to be a difficult process.
“We haven’t had difficulties with hospitals. They are less awkward about intellectual property because they just want to get the job done. The main work on Carina technology involves collaboration between several institutions to provide the skills and facilities needed to create the treatments and carry out the in-vitro and in-vivo trials,” Gosling says.
“Another key collaborator is Dr Mike Jensen at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, a world leader in this type of cancer treatment. They are excited about the project. They want to be involved,” says Gosling.
Carina recently won a Medical Technology Horizon grant and submitted a successful CRC-P application, together with raising capital from private individual investors and from the Adelaide Women and Children’s Hospital Foundation to fund ongoing work.
In the resource and time poor startup space, entrepreneurs need funding and easy, fast ways to collaborate.
“If collaboration and funding isn’t easy it’s unlikely to happen for a startup. The constant political interference in local funding models from Federal and State Governments has a huge knock on effect,” Gosling explains.
Micro-X became a ‘refugee’ from Victoria to South Australia when the Victorian Government cancelled support programs for SMEs and the South Australian Government gave Micro-X an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“The problem is not just whether there is funding or not. It’s an overarching problem of instability. In Australia, we change government too often and every time this happens at a Federal and State level, politicians change all the schemes. If you are a startup and have available funding through a scheme, it can be taken away from you overnight. This is an existential threat to startups or SMEs in Australia,” says Gosling.
“At Micro-X we’ve spent up to 15 million a year on R&D to develop what is now a world beating product, launched in 147 countries. A 4 million-dollar cap to the research and development tax offset scheme has just been introduced without warning. If it had been introduced a year or two ago, Micro-X would have died,” Gosling says.
“This chopping and changing is like constantly shooting yourself in the foot and is a big barrier. Micro-X development work was all outsourced to best-in-class local research, design and engineering teams. We relied very heavily on the R&D tax offset to fund this,” he says.
Gosling explains that Australian corporate investment in medical technology development is not a factor.
“They are not a factor, because they are not here! Now that the car industries have withdrawn from Australia, very few large companies, at least in a manufacturing sense, are doing Australian owned research and development,” he says.
“If they are not Australian, the R&D is determined from an international head office. Where and when the R&D happens depends on who has the most incredible resources and best tax treatment and a whole lot of other things that we don’t control. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen in Australia, but it probably won’t,” says Gosling.
“Medical and defence are two sectors that can pick up and hopefully fill the void left by the car industry. The car industry left us with world class capability in terms of manufacturing low cost, highly regulated, highly complicated things otherwise known as cars, but this is also applicable to medical devices and defence,” explains Gosling.
“In the six weeks before Holden closed down it had the highest quality capability of any General Motors facility in the world. We had extraordinary skill and quality in that sector. We need to capture this as quickly as we can before it all dissipates and retires or goes off to Detroit,” Gosling advises.