Australia - Global health R&D

This section focuses on donor countries’ support for global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world’s most disadvantaged people. Following the methodological approach used by Policy Cures Research (read G-Finder’s scope document), it focuses on donor funding and policy in three main areas: 1) emerging infectious diseases (EIDs); 2) poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs); and 3) sexual and reproductive health (SRH). As part of the EID R&D funding, this section also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). This section excludes domestic funding for health R&D that does not benefit low- and middle-income countries. Not all funding mentioned qualifies as official development assistance, or ODA.) 

Australia was the 13th-largest donor to global health R&D in 2020  

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, Australia contributed US$72 million in total to research and development (R&D) for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs), and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in 2020, making it 13th-largest public donor to R&D for these areas. The largest share of funding was spent on R&D for PRNDs only (53%, or US$38 million), followed by R&D for EID only (33%, or US$23 million) and R&D targeting both ND and EID (10%, or US$7 million). 3% (US$2 million) was spent on R&D for SRH. The remainder was spent on R&D initiatives targeting ND and SRH or EID and SRH.   

Australia spent US$31 million on R&D for EIDs in 2020 

In 2020, Australia spent US$31 million on R&D for EIDs, including funding exclusively for EID R&D (US$23 million) and funding for R&D relevant to both EIDs and PRNDs (US$7 million). This makes Australia the 13th-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in 2020.   

Australia’s funding for EIDs increased dramatically compared to 2019 (US$6 million) due to a spike in funding for R&D as part of the COVID-19 response. It is worth noting that it is generally common to see spikes and dips in EID funding as donors respond to outbreaks, and do not necessarily indicate a significant re/de-prioritization of the sector; however, consistent funding for EID R&D (for example, funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; CEPI) is essential to ensuring preparedness in advance of EID outbreaks and ensuring a rapid response—in terms of both research and containment—to emerging disease threats. 

The largest share of Australia’s EID R&D funding in 2020 was disbursed for vaccines (34%), followed by drugs (28%) and biologics (20%). Most EID R&D funding in 2020 targeted Coronaviral diseases (71% of EID funding), followed by 25% R&D funding for more than one disease area.  

Australia has stepped up R&D funding to EID through its international COVID-19 response, committing US$61 million between March and October 2020  

According to Policy Cures Research’s COVID-19 R&D tracker, between the start of the pandemic and October 2020 (latest data available), Australia announced funding commitments totaling US$61 million for COVID-19 R&D. US$16 million of this will go towards vaccines, US$10 million towards therapeutics, US$7 million toward basic research, and US$6 million towards diagnostics. The remaining US$22 million has been committed for unspecified purposes. Among its commitments, Australia pledged US$5 million each to both CEPI and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) at the Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Event in May 2020. These funds were provided under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s) ‘Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative.’ Australia pledged a further A$100 million (US$70 million) over five years at the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit in London in March 022. 

CEPI (along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance) is convening the vaccine pillar of ACT-A while FIND (in collaboration with the Global Fund) is working on diagnostics. ACT-A is a framework for collaboration through which donor countries have committed funds toward R&D for COVID-19; however not all ACT-A funding is for R&D, since it also has strong health system strengthening and vaccine distribution components. (For additional information on the broader ACT-A global health response to COVID-19, see Sector: ‘Global Health’.) 

Australia’s funding for PRNDs decreased in 2020 

In 2020, Australia invested US$46 million in R&D for PRNDs, including funding for R&D exclusively relevant to PRNDS (US$38 million) and areas of overlap with EIDs (US$7 million) and SRH (US$500,000). This makes Australia the sixth-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2020. In 2020, funding levels saw a decrease of 10% compared to 2019. 

Most of Australia’s funding for PRNDs in 2020 took the form of basic research (35%), followed by vaccines (24%), and drugs (24%). A large part of the spending on R&D for PRNDs was directed toward malaria (38% of PRND funding in 2020), R&D for more than one disease area (25%), Rheumatic fever (16%), and tuberculosis (12%). 

Drug-resistant malaria and tuberculosis are serious challenges in the Pacific and Southeast Asia (where Australia focuses much of its ODA, see ‘Policy Priorities’) and pose a threat to the health security of Australia. The ‘Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific Region,’ launched by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in October 2017, pledged A$300 million (US$206 million) over five years for research into prevention and containment of infectious diseases that may cause “social and economic harms.” This was followed by a second five-year investment of A$375 million (US$258 million), announced in early 2022. The ‘Health Security Initiative’ provides support in strengthening laboratory and surveillance systems, health workforce development, and infection prevention in partner countries. It also provides funding for Product Development Partnerships (PDPs), such as Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), the TB Alliance, FIND, and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC). In the first five-year phase Australia supported new diagnostics, the development of five mosquito control tools, 13 antimalarials, and six Tuberculosis medicines. 

In 2020, Australia shifted its focus to assisting its neighbors with containing and recovering from COVID-19. The ‘Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative’ has more recently been involved in channeling funding as part of Australia’s international response to COVID-19.   

Although SRH is a development priority, Australia’s funding for SRH R&D remains low 

In 2020, Australia spent US$3 million on R&D for SRH. This makes Australia the ninth-largest donor to this sector in 2020. 2019 saw a 46% decrease in Australia’s funding for SRH R&D compared to 2019 due to a striking reduction in R&D funding for HIV/AIDS (which is also counted as part of the PRND funding outlined above) from US$3.2 million in 2019 to US$200,000 in 2020. 

Australia made disbursements for R&D for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (28%), sexually transmitted infections (STIs; 28%), and multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs; 15%). 28% of SRH R&D funding went towards vaccines, 27% towards basic research, 19% went towards drugs and devices and combinations, respectively.  

Sexual and reproductive health is listed among Australia’s development priorities; however, its latest development policy document focuses largely on the delivery of “essential sexual and reproductive health services disrupted due to the pandemic.”  

COVID-19 R&D is a key focus of Australia’s latest development policy 

Australia’s spending on global health R&D is guided by the country’s development goals including protecting Australia’s health security and promoting economic growth, with a regional focus on the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Health R&D (particularly around COVID-19) is a key component of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) latest development strategy, ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’, which was launched in May 2020.  

The National Health and Medical Research Council is Australia’s largest funder of global health R&D 

Australia’s largest funding body for global health R&D are the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), a self-governing statutory authority, and the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). In 2020, the NHMRC disbursed US$30 million in non-ODA funding for global health R&D (41% of all R&D disbursements), while the MRFF disbursed US$24 million (33%). The related Medical Research Future Fund has increased its commitment to global health in the past 3 years, especially on AMR, TB, and Covid-19. 

ODA funds from DFAT come from country, regional, and global programs, and are delivered through the regular budget process. DFAT disbursed US$16 million in R&D funding in 2020 (22% of total R&D disbursements that year). DFAT’s Global Health Division is the driver of health development policy and provides guidance to assist with the implementation of this strategy. The Development Policy Division (DPD) also works with other DFAT programs to plan and adjust pipeline investments. In conjunction with the Department of Health, DFAT works with other key agencies to prepare and respond to health security threats in the region.