Queensland is a leader in global discoveries in biomedicine. Government support and investment in collaboration with universities, research organisations, hospitals and industry partners contribute to ground-breaking biomedical research, innovative products and dedicated facilities for the clinical treatment of health problems in Queensland.
Professor Ian Frazer is a pioneer in the Australian biomedicine industry and recognised as the co-inventor of the technology that allowed the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, which are used globally to prevent cervical cancer.
The world-renowned immunologist was the founding CEO and Director of Research of the Translational Research Institute (TRI) and is a Professor at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Faculty of Medicine and an Affiliate Professorial Research Fellow at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB).
We spoke to Professor Frazer about how Queensland is writing the script for a big future in biomedicine and setting students up for success in an industry with worldwide relevance.
How has the Queensland biomedicine industry evolved?
The biomedicine industry began with the practical problem of tropical infections and diseases that were relatively unique to Queensland, a challenge that led to the founding of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane (now QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute).
The next major step for biomedicine was transplant surgery. Queensland was an early leader in kidney and liver transplant surgery, driving research into the scientific basis of organ matching and study on the immune system (immunology) as it applied to health.
The establishment of UQ IMB was another important step and set up the genomics (DNA) platforms that support biomedicine in Queensland. Around this time, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) was developing a program looking at wound healing and regeneration, adding another area of biomedicine to the state’s growing research sector.
What sets Queensland’s biomedicine industry apart?
One significant difference is our biomedicine industry is a collaborative effort between educational and research organisations, enterprise and government. The Queensland Government has invested in support for talent and small-to-medium companies (SMEs), promoting the application of bioscience to develop clinically useful technology across the whole field of biomedicine from bacterial genetics through to tissue regeneration.
The Queensland Government has also been an enthusiastic supporter of the translation of research into clinical practice by supporting the Translational Research Institute (TRI) in Brisbane.
How is Queensland’s biomedicine industry regarded globally?
The impact of our biomedicine industry at an international level comes from the products and solutions we deliver. Queensland is recognised for producing the technology that allowed the development of HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) to prevent cervical cancer, which was the result of biomedical research conducted on HPV.
Queensland is also recognised internationally for our research and treatment of infectious diseases, particularly tropical infectious diseases, through James Cook University in Townsville. Queensland’s expertise in applied immunology is also used in current clinical trials of cancer therapies.
What are some of the emerging capabilities within Queensland’s biomedicine industry?
A really interesting area is the application of immunotherapy to a range of diseases other than infectious diseases. For example, work at TRI currently focuses on developing new immunotherapeutic approaches to control autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and inflammatory bowel disorders.
In cancer research, several groups and small companies are developing new approaches to immunotherapy. Building on our strength in immunology that was developed through QIMR’s initial work on infectious diseases, we now also have a range of commercial products in trial for serious COVID-19 infection.
What drives the biomedicine industry forward in Queensland?
Leading university courses, industry innovation and ground-breaking research all contribute to the success of Queensland’s biomedicine industry. Queensland universities encourage innovation, particularly the translation of innovation into practical outcomes for patients, which has led to the establishment of several small companies to create products. We also have strong government support through biomedical research fellowships to allow people to apply their research knowledge to develop products for clinical practice.
How do Queensland universities set students up for success for a career in biomedicine?
Queensland universities have demonstrated innovation in the development of courses that encourage students to acquire cross-disciplinary skills. For example, in pharmacology, students are exposed to the business side of developing new biomedicines and the practical side of research work.
We also have the advantage of Brisbane-based companies, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific and Vaxxas, where students can get practical experience in the biomedicine industry. These companies provide training so students can understand the difference between lab research and product development and quality control, one of the big challenges for biomedicine on a global basis.
What are your predictions for the future of biomedicine in Queensland?
For more than 25 years, the Queensland Government has recognised the important role of biomedical research, working with universities to support students doing the translational work in a university environment and supporting the launch of SMEs to ensure they are internationally competitive. I believe Queensland’s success rate in the biomedicine industry is well above average on a global scale and with the Queensland government’s ongoing support, we’ll continue to contribute significantly on an international basis.