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Trial and error: Big-name Queensland research facility suffers funding setback

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The Translational Research Institute wants to be able to manufacture vaccines in Brisbane but has been forced to re-apply for vital Commonwealth funding.

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The TRI is based in the health innovation hub around the Princess Alexandra Hospital and needs to grow in order to help researchers and scientists turn their concepts and research into reality.

It prepared a business case for a $60 million Translational Manufacturing Institute, to allow late-stage work to be completed in Australia, potentially even manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.

The TRI has some influential backers, and had already secured $20 million in funding commitments when it convinced the Palaszczuk Government to commit up to $20 million more. The State funding was the first allocation from the $1.84 billion Queensland Jobs Fund, announced at pre-budget event in June featuring Treasurer Cameron Dick and Deputy Premier Steven Miles.

At the time, Dick said Queensland had long lobbied for Australia to have a sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability, and was happy to support “one of the flagship research institutes in our nation”.

The TRI’s inaugural CEO, Professor Ian Frazer, said the TRI was trying to overcome the shortcomings in the sector that meant that when he co-created the cervical cancer vaccine, it could only be tested and manufactured overseas.

“We want to be seen as world leaders,” Frazer said at the time.

CEO Professor Scott Bell told the event the remaining funding would “hopefully” come from a successful application for $20 million from the Commonwealth’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative.

However, the TRI applied for Commonwealth funding under the aptly-named Translation Stream of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative and was unsuccessful.

The TRI is now changing tack to seek funding under the Collaboration Stream. If successful, it will revisit its original timeframes and what role it can play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new capacity would be known as TMI@TRI and, through industry partnerships, help support some 500 jobs over 10 years. It aligns with the Palaszczuk Government’s bid to take the Smart State initiative further.

In Federal Parliament, a Senate motion called on the Commonwealth to release documents showing the assessments done under the Translation Stream of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative. Industry Minister Christian Porter, in response, claimed public interest immunity in order to keep the documents confidential.

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