Professor Ian Frazer: Health research a key to a more sustainable health system
Professor Ian Frazer, 45 and Up Study Annual Forum 2017
Professor Frazer said Australia could benefit from the establishment of an independent, national institute to oversee health research

Ensuring more sustainable provision of healthcare as the population ages and the burden of chronic disease grows is a central challenge that health research must address, pre-eminent health researcher Professor Ian Frazer AC told the 45 and Up Study Annual Forum.

Giving the keynote address to the Forum in Sydney this month, Professor Frazer, Chair of the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board and Chair of the Advisory Board for the government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), said other pressing healthcare challenges included changes in the way people perceive healthcare.

“People who are sick consult a doctor last not first – first they consult Dr Google and the TV,” he said.

While $2.1 billion a year was spent on drugs prescribed by doctors, an equivalent amount was spent on a range of over-the-counter minerals and vitamin supplements that have no proven benefit in healthy people, he said.

Professor Frazer said the MRFF was focusing on ensuring the health system was fully informed by quality medical research, including health systems research.

MRFF work underway

The MRFF had already disbursed $65.9 million, including $10 million for preventive health research, through The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre based at the Sax Institute.

The Fund’s strategy for 2016−2021 included a focus on strategic and international horizons; data and infrastructure; health services and systems; capacity and collaboration; trials and translation; and commercialisation, he said.

Professor Frazer said the second round of MRFF disbursements for 2017-18 and beyond were currently under consideration by the Government, and would likely include programs such as clinical trials, fellowships and “bold missions” that could be achieved in a five-year timeframe.

“There are opportunities for research projects like the 45 and Up Study to come up with something deliverable in five years,” he said.

He said researchers needed to make better use of the population as a database to “help us to plan health better”. Increasing interest in in the areas of personalised medicine, precision medicine and big data were likely to shape future health directions, he added.

Professor Frazer also suggested that Australia could benefit from the establishment of an independent, national institute to oversee health research, similar to the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, which was set up a decade ago to better integrate the UK’s health research system.

“I’m very keen to encourage this idea of a national institute like they have in the UK… I think we need to try to develop something very similar,” he said.

Find out more