NHMRC plans future but ignores the past

Linkedin Post 68 (first 66 posts were stolen) – Why is Australia’s peak health and medical research authority, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) planning big time for its future, but ignoring its past in its Structural Review of NHMRC Research Grants Program, which just closed for submissions on 25 August 2016?

My punchline in my lodged submission is :

The NHMRC review committee should first conduct


of how grants of nearly $9 billion

 have actually benefited

the health of Australians since 2000.

This is my full submission to the NHMRC Grants Program review lodged 25 August 2016.

(In addition, I am making a separate related submission to the NHMRC for the establishment of a targeted minimum 5% p.a. to be applied to natural therapy research grants, mirroring a similar targeted grant for indigenous health).

“My submission is designed to protect the longevity of the NHMRC’s Grant Program in its entirety, by recommending an initial HEALTH BENEFITS OUTCOME REVIEW to account for how the near $9 billion of grants has actually benefited the health of Australians since 2000 in accordance with your annual report at page 118 – Note 1.

.Accordingly, I will not be discussing any individual alternative models currently put forward for consultation, due to a fundamental gap in the source information provided.

 From my experience as a venture capitalist specialising in translating the cream of Australian scientists’ work, primarily in the fields of biotechnology and IT, I consider a fundamental step has been bypassed in the formulation of Alternative models 1 to 3.

 I attended personally five of the NHMRC forums and spoke extensively to various members of the Committee and key staff after these excellent consultations. My discussions clearly established there has been no adequate analysis of the outcome of 15 years of grant funding approaching $9 billion to date.

 In particular, the main allocation method has been by peer review panels focusing upon track record as the key driver. Track record has been generally interpreted as the breadth of academic journal citation, and was fondly denoted even by the NHMRC CEO as a bit of an old boys club.

 As a venture capitalist, I have had vast practical experience, including pioneering the $5 billion dollar Pooled Development Fund program in the 90s and operating under the Management and Investment Company Scheme from the 80’s.

 I submit any new taxpayer dollars should be channeled into research models that best achieved the single outcome that drives the NHMRC – see Note 1 of your Annual Report 2014-15 which clearly states on page 118 ( why is it buried there?)

 “The NHMRC is structured to meet one outcome – That Australia’s health system benefits from high quality health and medical research conducted at the highest ethical standard, well-developed research capabilities and sound evidence-based advice that informs health policy and practice.”

 So I would like to recommend to the NHMRC review committee you first conduct a HEALTH BENEFITS OUTCOME REVIEW to account for how the $9 billion of grants has actually benefited the health of Australians since 2000.

 This audit style examination should consider a cross section of say 10% of the grants randomly chosen with an analysis of KPI’s such as grant amount received; grant dollars spent; third party dollars leveraged in partnership or commercial collaboration; stage of translation; time to translate commercially; intellectual property capitalised; jobs creation; economic growth and related indicators; impact upon the health budget; impact on health outcomes for Australians; citation of science in peak journals such as Cochrane; whether discarded by Cochrane due to flawed methodology or bias or conflict of interest; and which “science research model” alternative was adopted under each particular grant.

 Once this audit style information becomes available, the Committee would then be armed with appropriate data to decide which of Models 1 to 3 would best maximize these key KPI’s from the last 15 years NHMRC grants’ experience.

 The NHMRC CEO, Professor Kelso, made it clear at the public forums of her key aims to ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY, INNOVATION and FLEXIBILITY.

 Please take the time to be creative and flexible with your approach to the current consultation and carefully consider my submission as a precursor to locking in a plan for the next 15 years.

My experience with the Pooled Development Fund program, which commenced in 1992, but closed for new investment in 2006, was that NO OUTCOME STUDY was completed to show how the $5 billion raised by 128 individually, managed investment companies targeting medium and small size Australian companies, actually contributed to our economy. I consider this typical approach of so many Government incentive programs using taxpayers’ money to be a disappointing one as I think there is frequently a catalytic impact rarely discovered.

 So for the sake of all Australians, please complete first a HEALTH BENEFITS OUTCOME REVIEW to satisfy your reason for existence:

 “The NHMRC is structured to meet one outcome – That Australia’s health system benefits…”.


Unfortunately the NHMRC’s current evaluation prime tool called  Measuring up 2013, does not address how Australia’s health system benefits, but focuses upon the peer group citation frequency, a debatable correlation with Australia’s health. It states:

“Measuring up 2013 is the latest in a series of bibliometric studies, first published in 1996, of the outputs of NHMRC research funding. For the first time, this analysis focused on comparing the impact of NHMRC-supported research with that of other Australian health and medical research.

The findings in the report show continuing strong performance by Australian health and medical research overall and by NHMRC-supported research in particular. For example: 

  • 20,960 NHMRC-supported publications accounted for about 31% of all Australian health and medical research output in 2005– 2009, up from 26% in 2002–2006.
  • The number of health and medical research publications that have NHMRC support was 68% higher in 2005–2009 than in 2002-2006, whereas the total Australian health and medical research publications increased by 44% during the same period. Australia now contributes 3.1% of the world’s biomedical research.
  • NHMRC-supported publications received 60% more citations than the world average. The average citation rate for Australian health and medical research publications was 17% above the world average.
  • In all fields and sub-fields, NHMRC-supported publications had a relative citation impact above that of other Australian health and medical research publications that were not supported by NHMRC funding
  • More than 2.5% of NHMRC funded publications are in the top 1% most cited papers world wide.
  • Australia had 1,214 papers in the top 1% most cited papers in the world, and almost half of those had NHMRC support.
  • Nearly 40% of NHMRC-supported publications involved international collaborations, from over 110 countries.

Bibliometric analysis involves many variables and should not be used to draw conclusions selectively or in isolation from other measures. Some caveats to keep in mind:

  • There are differences in methodology between this report and the previous 2009 report, mainly the change to a different classification system for fields of research and the addition of three new NHMRC grants schemes.
  • As there are wide variations in citation practices between fields of research, citations are quoted relative to the norm in the field.”


 Do you have any comments about how our taxpayers funds can be better allocated to benefit our health?

Graeme Little né Peter Pope



Facebook under Peter Little: https://www.facebook.com/graeme.little.9849/about

+61 (0) 402 904749

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