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 eighth-largest donor to global health R&D in 2019 

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, Australia contributed US$42 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 2019, making it eighth-largest public donor to R&D for these areas. The vast majority (73% or US$31 million) of this funding was spent on R&D for PRNDs only. 4% (US$1.8 million) was spent on R&D for SRH and 4% (US$1.8 million) on EIDs. The remainder was spent on R&D initiatives targeting more than one disease area.  

Australia spent US$6 million on R&D for EIDs in 2019

In 2019, Australia spent US$6 million on R&D for EIDs, including funding exclusively for EID R&D (US$2 million) and funding for R&D relevant to both EIDs and PRNDs (US$4 million). This makes Australia the ninth-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in 2019.  

Australia’s funding for EIDs decreased significantly in 2019 compared to 2018 (US$9 million) but remained above 2016 and 2017 funding levels (US$4 million). It is worth noting that it is 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.

Most of Australia’s EID R&D funding in 2019 went to multi-disease vector control (60% of EID funding), mainly in the form of ‘vector control products’. This is considered joint funding for EIDs and PRNDs. A further 11% was disbursed as core funding to CEPI. Australia’s funding for EID R&D is surprisingly low given that health security is a strategic focus of Australian development efforts. This is explained by the fact that drug-resistant malaria and tuberculosis — the key health security threats in Australia’s priority areas (the Pacific and South East Asia) — are considered PRNDs, rather than EIDs (see below).  

Australia has stepped up R&D funding to EIDs 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 will be provided under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s) Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative. 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 2019 after a large spike in 2018

In 2019, Australia invested US$38 million in R&D for PRNDs, including funding for R&D exclusively relevant to PRNDS (US$31 million) and areas of overlap with EIDs (US$4 million) and SRH (US$3 million). This makes Australia the sixth-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2019. In 2019, funding levels saw a slight decrease of 3% compared to 2018 when it significantly increased (by 70% from 2017). 

Most of Australia’s funding for PRNDs in 2019 took the form of basic research (35%), followed by drugs (23%) and vector control products (10%). Two-thirds of the spending on R&D for PRNDs was directed toward malaria (40% of PRND funding in 2019), tuberculosis (14%), and HIV/AIDs (8%).  

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$209 million) over five years for research into prevention and containment of infectious diseases that may cause “social and economic harms”. This included a A$75 million (US$52 million) Product Development Partnership (PDP) fund. Funding for PDPs is divided between the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), the TB Alliance, FIND, and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC). In January 2019, the government announced a new contribution of A$5 million (US$3 million) to CEPI as part of the Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific.  

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 2019, Australia spent just over US$5 million on R&D for SRH, including US$3 million on HIV/AIDS (which is also counted as part of the PRND funding outlined above). This makes Australia the tenth-largest donor to this sector in 2019. 2019 saw a 16% decrease in Australia’s funding for SRH R&D compared to 2018. 

In addition to HIV/AIDS (62% of SRH R&D funding), Australia made disbursements for R&D for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (28%) and HPV-related cervical cancer (7%). 30% of SRH R&D funding went toward basic research, 25% went towards drugs, 24% was disbursed for unspecified products, and 12% was used for vaccines.  

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”. HIV research continues to receive attention from the Australian government through its ‘National HIV Strategy’ although the latest version (2018-2022) emphasizes research specific to priority populations within Australia, rather than the development of treatment or cures relevant to the global community.  

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. Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, released in November 2017, also highlights health security as an essential component of human and economic development.  

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 is the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), a self-governing statutory authority. In 2019, the NHMRC disbursed US$29 million in non-ODA funding for global health R&D (68% of Australia’s overall R&D disbursements for EIDs, PRNDs, and SRH).  

ODA funds from DFAT used to deliver the ‘Health for Development Strategy 2015-2020’ come from country, regional, and global programs, and are delivered through the regular budget process. DFAT disbursed US$11 million in R&D funding in 2019 (26% of total R&D disbursements that year). DFAT’s Human Development and Governance Division (HGD) 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.