Breakthrough Victoria CEO, Mr Grant Dooley's speech at the Bio Connections Conference
Thank you, Tam [Nguyen, Deputy Director of Research at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne].
Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and extend my respects to the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Victoria, and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today, and acknowledge their connections to land, sea and community.
A warm welcome to you all.
It’s a pleasure to be here at the BioConnections conference. Truth is, for a short period last week, my attendance was touch and go as both my wife and daughter succumbed to COVID.
But desperate times calls for desperate measures. So, I’ve basically been living out of my study at home for the past week, isolating myself from the rest of my family.
Fortunately, my series of negative RAT tests shows my efforts were successful.
I do fear, however, my family may request we make the arrangements permanent. Time will tell.
The upside for me is the opportunity to address this conference for the second year in a row, and to update you on the progress of Breakthrough Victoria.
This is particularly relevant given the focus of this year’s Bio Connections: translation, development and commercialisation.
That’s really what Breakthrough Victoria is all about—because that’s how you get impact.
We know we have a lot of great ideas and world class research in Victoria. Much of it is represented in this room. We might also think of:
• Cochlear — a global leader in bionic ear technology based on the work of Professor Graeme Clark from the Bionic Ear Institute at the University of Melbourne.
• Venetoclax [ven-et-o-clacks]—the cancer treatment developed by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and partnered with AbbVie.
• And Global Kinetics, which offers new ways to manage Parkinson’s disease using technology developed by the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.
We’ve also seen what can happen when Australian innovation, particularly in the medtech and biotech sectors, is applied to a massive health emergency like COVID:
• The Peter Doherty Institute was the first to grow the SARS-COV2 virus in cell culture outside of China and provided an important tool for others to develop diagnostic tools and test their vaccines.
• Western Health and the University of Melbourne developed a protective isolation hood for health workers.
• There was also a novel home-based COVID-19 test kit similar to the RAT tests that we’re all now familiar with.
When COVID hit, researchers and medical professionals in Australia and around the world collaborated, vaccines were developed and deployed, and telehealth became a reality—all in record time.
But just as COVID demonstrated the need for innovation, it also contributed to what is an ongoing volatile global economic environment. We’ve seen disrupted supply lines, labour shortages, and we’re now seeing real uncertainties around energy security and supply.
All the more reason, then, to keep investing in innovation for impact. There’s never been a more important time to support universities, research institutes and industry to rapidly respond to challenges as they emerge.
Before I talk about Breakthrough Victoria, I want to take a quick look at the state of Australian biotech today.
Despite a volatile investment environment, the sector attracted record capital in 2021 thanks to the pandemic-driven focus on health.
And not surprisingly we’re seeing good growth in the sector.
But how do we sustain this? Part of the answer is to supplement the welcome growth we’ve seen in Australia’s venture capital industry with pools of genuinely patient and risk-tolerant capital, which I’ll come to later.
The fact is, for Australia to remain globally competitive we need to build our sovereign capability to provide what small companies need:
• Access to capital.
• A skilled and experienced workforce.
• Quality infrastructure, including laboratory facilities.
• A strong advanced manufacturing sector.
• Pathways to markets.
• And advisors who have done it before.
The reality is we’re not there yet.
We do well on the research side, less well on the translation and commercialisation side.
The 2021 Global Innovation Index ranked Australia 15th out of 132 economies for innovation institutions and research.
But when it comes to translation and commercialisation we drop to 33.
The reasons for this discrepancy are complex, but they include:
• A lack of early-stage capital.
• Risk-averse investors.
• Inadequate infrastructure to support development and manufacturing.
• And room for better entrepreneurial capability among academics and researchers.
Put all these together and you get too many innovations falling into the valley of death between the laboratory and the market—or going offshore.
That’s where Breakthrough Victoria comes in.
Breakthrough Victoria is an independent company that manages the $2 billion Breakthrough Victoria Fund set up by the Victorian Government to make Victoria and Australia a global innovation leader.
And my message today is that we’re here to help. Here you can see some of the ways we’re trying to turbocharge commercialisation in Victoria.
As a multi-stage investor, we work across the spectrum from early stage development through to later stage funding rounds to support larger scale growth for companies.
We support small companies across the valley of death and help larger ones scale up as they look to expand into international markets.
We do this by:
• Supporting a commercial culture among innovators and researchers;
• Investing in early-stage innovations over the long term;
• Building an investor and innovator ecosystem; and
• Forging partnerships with industry and service providers
We have five priority areas, which you can see here.
Together these sum up what the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, calls the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’—a revolution he says will be ‘characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.’
So that’s the framework within which we operate ...
... and we’re now looking for investments.
Breakthrough Victoria is poised for significant expansion over the coming year as we continue to build our team and grow our investment pipeline.
The kind of investment we’re looking for provides economic, social or environmental benefits to Victoria—it involves innovative new technologies to deliver those benefits—and it has a clear path to market and the potential to generate returns.
We can invest in a variety of ways, from direct investment into a company, to partnerships and collaborations or platforms to fund multiple innovations.
Most importantly, we want to make a difference. That’s what investing for impact means. And that means we need to be a patient investor. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, which is why we take a long-term view of 10 years and beyond to give early innovations a real chance to develop their commercial potential.
We also have the ability to continue to invest in subsequent funding rounds as a company grows and develops.
But this is not all forward planning—we are already investing.
This will give start-ups access to industry expertise and specialised lab and clinical facilities and infrastructure to develop and commercialise their innovations.
Andrew [Nash] will talk more about the Incubator in his presentation, so I won’t steal his thunder now.
But it’s a great example of how our unique business model can bring together leading universities, global companies, research institutes, start-ups, businesses, investors and government.
Breakthrough Victoria – University Innovation Fund
This fund matches investments by Victoria’s top universities to create pre-seed investment funds.
The idea is to take the world-class ideas and research coming out of Victorian universities and help them grow into commercially viable businesses.
The University of Melbourne Genesis Pre-seed Fund
This will help new companies affiliated with the university secure their intellectual property, develop prototypes, test products with consumers and fine-tune business plans.
We’re working with other Victorian universities to set up similar funds tailored to their individual needs.
For those of you who don’t know Seer, they have developed a home-based wearable technology that enables diagnosis and long-term monitoring for epilepsy management.
They’re also working on a non-invasive seizure risk forecaster, called SEER Home, to predict when a seizure may happen.
When you think of the 65 million people who live with epilepsy worldwide —
When you think how hard it can be to diagnose epilepsy, let alone to treat it —
And when you think about the urgent need we have in Victoria and around Australia to get people out of hospitals and treat them in the home —
You can see what we mean by investing for impact.
It’s about improving people’s lives.
It’s about improving our health care system.
And it’s about creating jobs — Seer’s presence in Melbourne, for example, is expected to create up to 225 jobs across R&D, manufacturing and production.
And finally, it’s about driving growth. Our funding will enable Seer to expand its business locally and internationally and become a global leader in epilepsy home monitoring and management.
Over the coming weeks and months, you’ll hear a lot more about our activities as we announce more investments and partnerships across the digital technology, advanced manufacturing, deep tech and clean economy sectors.
It’s an exciting for us at Breakthrough Victoria and more importantly it’s an exciting time to be an innovator in Victoria.
It’s early days yet. I believe we will see a lot more Seer-type ventures. More university-based funding platforms. More new ideas and new businesses.
And many more partners—including, I hope, some of the individuals and companies and other organisations represented at this conference today.
I hope you all enjoy the rest of this fantastic event.