Vic Gov pledges $55m for biotech as IBM plans R&D hub

The Victorian Government plans to spend more than $50 million on the state’s biotechnology sector, just days after IBM announced a new R&D lab to strengthen Victoria’s ICT industry.


Gordon Rich-Phillips, Victorian Minister for Technology, has released a $55 million plan to support Victorian biotech through the next stage of growth.


“The Government will establish a number of dedicated programs that will directly support the biotechnology sector and encourage the uptake of biotechnology,” he said in a statement.


The plan covers two actions areas, one of which is referred to as “Capability Development”, designed to support talent pools, and pursue international trade and investment opportunities.


The other action area is biotech-enabled innovation, with a focus on demand-driven product development, the uptake of programs, demonstration projects and regulatory reform.


A key component of the biotech plan is a $15 million Health Market Validation Program, designed to encourage innovation in Victoria’s healthcare system.


The Health MVP is a competitive grants program that will leverage the power of government-as- customer to support the development of health technology solutions.


Aimed at SMEs, eligible entities include health services, aged care providers and community health providers.


The program involves a three-stage process. Firstly, applicants are invited to identify problems that, if solved, are likely to significantly improve the cost or delivery of healthcare services.


During this stage, applicants can submit a Technology Requirement Specification, outlining the specific health sector problem and the anticipated benefits from addressing the need.


At the second stage, the Government will invite the SME market to propose new technology solutions to meet the need described in the TRS.


In stage three, SMEs that submit successful proposals receive a grant of up to $100,000 to undertake a feasibility study, for up to four months.


Successful feasibility studies may then be eligible for further funding of up to $1.5 million over two years in a validation phase to undertake the project R&D to progress towards market.


Another initiative under the government’s plan is the Technology Trade and International Partnering Program, which will provide grants for Victorian companies to attend overseas biotechnology conferences and trade events.


“Our vision for the future is to bring together the transformative power of the major technology platforms – biotechnology, ICT and small technologies – to unleash greater innovation and wider economic benefits,” Rich-Phillips said.


The news comes just three days after the launch of an IBM R&B lab in Melbourne, including Federal Government funding to the tune of $22 million.


The lab will employ about 150 researchers over the next five years, with a focus on ICT.


Juerg von Kaenel, senior research manager at the lab, says there’s an opportunity for experienced researchers and PhD students to further their studies in the hope of solving global problems.


“We have to get to 150 people by year five – that means I have to hire, on average, 2.5 people a month,” Dr Kaenel says.

“We’re trying to hire a mixture of experienced people both from inside IBM, the other research labs, a few who can connect to the rest of IBM, then a few experienced people around certain subjects, and then the rest is PhDs mostly at this point.”

“But I also have a whole slew of interns – PhD candidates. Obviously from the University of Melbourne I have a few, but also from all the universities around.”


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