AusBiotech: An Advancing Australia




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Video title: AusBiotech: An Advancing Australia
Released on: February 01, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this exclusive interview, Fintan Walton talks to Anna Lavelle, CEO of AusBiotech, about how the organisation performs its role as the interface between commerce, research scientists and the federal and state government agencies in Australia. Anna also outlines the progress the Australian biotechnology industry has made and discusses how AusBiotech plans to maintain that trend. The emergence of Australia as a significant player in the industry was reflected in the success of AusBiotech 2007 and Anna goes on to talk about the plans to further improve next year’s conference.
Role of AusBiotech .
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review here in Brisbane, Australia. On this show I have Anna Lavelle, who is the CEO of AusBiotech , welcome to the show Anna Lavelle.
Anna Lavelle:
Thank you Fintan it's great to see you again.
Fintan Walton:
Pleasure to see you to. Anna, you are the CEO of AusBiotech which is the countrywide Australian biotechnology organization, what is the role of AusBiotech ?
Anna Lavelle:
Well we have a complicated role, we are not for profit organization. We don't receive base funding from government, so in effect we are like a start up so we mirror the SMEs we mostly represent. We represent companies from the very small to the very large CSL being the largest Australian company and we also have pharmaceutical companies as our members. So we do advocacy, we interact with government, government relations, talk about legislation change, talk to the TGA help us remove any barriers to business that our SMEs are facing and also interact with the research community.
Fintan Walton:
Because in Australia you clearly you have the federal countries, you got the various states, state governments and in addition to that obviously you've got the Federal government itself, so you have this interface between the biotech, commercial biotech part of our industry here in Australia government and then just yourselves, how do you get that balance between those three from an AusBiotech perspective?
Anna Lavelle:
That's a really great question because that's really something that takes up a lot of our brain power in day working out how we can appropriately bridge an interface between those different communities, government obviously thinks very differently to commerce, commerce thinks differently to research scientist they all have the different sub culture and their drive as a quite different and AusBiotech sometimes I feel like very lucky and as we got formula where we are match making and trying to bring together people in a constructive way to facilitate communication and partnership and I think we've been reasonably successful of doing that. Australia is a little different from some other countries to as you say we are federated country and we have to interact with state territory and Federal governments as well as InvestAustralia and AusTrade so there are a lot of interactions that we do have to have at the government level.
Progress of the Australian biotechnology industry and AusBiotech 's role in development and cooperation between states.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and the other thing is that we were here obviously in Brisbane, in Queensland and people have different views on government as you know and the intervention of government can have in particular sectors, but I suppose one of the things that often people recognize here in Queensland is certainly in this decade that the former premier Peter Beattie was very active in attracting and getting biotech off the ground?
Anna Lavelle:
Absolutely and in 2001 he was the first politician from Australia to go to BIO in US where he was really turned on to biotechnology if you like and people still talk about that blood from Australia that came over and he has been a strong supporter of biotechnology ever since and really saw the need to invest in the knowledge economy and wanted to diversify Queensland's economy by doing that and he has been very successful.
Fintan Walton:
Yes. I mean I think it wasn't just simply because he talked about or just supported he actually did implement a series of programs and supporting programs which allowed biotech to really start off well?
Anna Lavelle:
Absolutely, he built infrastructure, he built institutions, he put together an investment fund he also did what he could to state legislation to make things easier for business and he found a lot of international partnerships with South Carolina and many other parts of the globe to make sure that Australian companies were truly global.
Fintan Walton:
So from an AusBiotech point of view you are the CEO of AusBiotech obviously, how do you see the role of AusBiotech trying to make sure that just not happen in Queensland but in another states as well?
Anna Lavelle:
Yes another state that's very very active is Victoria, so we have Victoria and Queensland in Australia who have invested heavily in biotechnology, other states are also active and our job is to make sure that we keep their attention and keep their excitement level up and try and educate new minister's coming through and new bureaucrats there turning through about the benefits of biotechnology and also the essential role that it plays in the future, we are part of a revolution at the moment a global revolution and people if they don't understand that missing a very key point and I think that it's our role or make sure that people really do address that and therefore invest in it quite easily knowing that it's the right thing to do.
Fintan Walton:
I suppose the other thing is and how much cooperation is between the states because clearly you know Australia is big in land mass but it is a relatively small country?
Anna Lavelle:
Absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
So how can Australia get that right because it's important that it is you know each states are cooperating with each other?
Anna Lavelle:
Absolutely correct, we have a one Australia approach and I chair a committee called the committee for marketing Australian biotechnology and on it we have representatives from every state government and Federal government InvestAustralia and AusTrade, so you can see it's a cast of dozens and we meet monthly to talk about how we can reflect and expose our technology to the world. The other thing is that I have recently set up a group called Asian Pacific countries into a network through the industry associations to really encourage transfer of knowledge and also networking between the different countries and on economics and our biotechnologies because doing that can only be positive thing to do.
The emergence of Australia as a significant player in biotech industry was reflected in success of AusBiotech 2007.
Fintan Walton:
Yes, sure. And the other thing of course AusBiotech does exactly that because stuff that you just talked about but also you I know that AusBiotech at a local level is also organizing and working with the local other biotechnology associations as well and I suppose we are here now in Brisbane in 2007 at your annual convention here and how is that going this year?
Anna Lavelle:
Fantastically I really think it's fantastic, I am interested to see what you think but we've had more delegates than ever, more exhibitors than ever we've had more business matching than ever people are telling me very positive things about the deals and the meetings that been having. I saw a chap walking down the hallway yesterday chatting into his mobile phone" I've done the deal, I've done the deal" and that's great that's exactly what we want to see and hear at the conference like this.
Fintan Walton:
I think one of things that I've noticed this year is a much stronger presence by the large pharmaceutical companies they really taking Australia seriously now I suppose to find opportunities, so that's good?
Anna Lavelle:
That's absolutely right your observation is correct. We had a handful of pharmaceutical companies in the past, this year we have a very strong contingent and also the global companies we have between I think it's 8 and 13 representatives from the top 14 companies here in the world and that's very impressive, we also have representative from the top 5 biotechnology companies. So that's a great goal for us for Australia and to really open the eyes of people to the technology opportunities that are here.
Benefits and potential opportunities of attending AusBiotech conventions.
Fintan Walton:
Right, I think one of the important things in I think that obviously there is a lot of companies from within Australia turned in to this particular convention but if I was a small biotech company based in Europe or in US why should I come to AusBiotech ?
Anna Lavelle:
That's a very challenging question Fintan Walton, I think you should come for whole range of reasons obviously, but I think it's there is a lot of synergy between Australia and other economics that are smaller, there are economics that are self sustaining such as North America obviously there is a very large source of private capital and the large number of VC's and companies but in Australia and in other countries around us we have some disadvantages in terms of access to private capital and so our companies are going global they have to be, they know they have to partner and so they are looking for technology everywhere including in a small company in Europe or where ever you come from because the Australian companies here are very hungry for partners and for linkages. So I think that it's probably a better richer environment here there is very little elegance too people will know they have to reach out to the world.
Fintan Walton:
Yes. But I suppose you know Australia is very good at its attending through AusBiotech and the Australian government attending overseas conferences it has a good presence but I suppose the key thing here is when companies come to the AusBiotech annual convention they've got everybody here, they don't have just a small sub population people attending the international conferences you've got everybody here in Australia?
Anna Lavelle:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
And you've got direct access to those companies so there is a benefit there too?
Anna Lavelle:
Absolutely, so it's in a one fit shopping you can come here and you very likely more than 80, 90% likely to find the company you've heard of or seen online or communicated with by email and can set up those meetings ahead of time, the other thing is of course we have over 500 international guests here as well and we have a 192 speakers, 87 of them are international speakers. So that is a serious international flavor and presence here which is my goal to grow the next year and the year after. We have sizable delegations from Austria, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Japan smaller delegations from Singapore and also from Israel. So it's really good to see over 27 countries actually involved in this conference that we were talking about at the moment.
Fintan Walton:
And I suppose one of the other things that we're increasingly seeing is that Australian companies obviously founded here in Australia are now setting up their businesses or either their subsidiary offices overseas or actually sometimes moving over overseas, so is that a good thing?
Anna Lavelle:
Well I think it's part of reality, we only have as you know a certain menu from which to choose and how you going to develop and grow your company. And Australian's are very pragmatic so I think we see that we need to fully explore those options and those options include setting up offices in other countries, it also includes in the case of Peplin incorporated in USA and that's the first time it's ever happened in biotechnology since (indiscernable), (indiscernable) is the only other Australian company that actually incorporated in the US, so above moving and worth watching that one but the other thing is we need to think of companies like Pharmaxis who have now taken product to market and that's a great milestone for our companies as well because it shows that Australian companies can do it if they have the right mixture, right opportunity rather than having to go through big pharma but still that is the exception rather than rule. We understand that really a lot of our companies are relatively small in a global sense and therefore they do need to look for those leveraging opportunities with other companies.
Plans of improvements in future conferences.
Fintan Walton:
Sure. Now AusBiotech 2008 is you've announced where it's going to be held?
Anna Lavelle:
Yes, Melbourne.
Fintan Walton:
Melbourne, okay?
Anna Lavelle:
Melbourne.
Fintan Walton:
Okay and what dates are those?
Anna Lavelle:
The 26th to the 29th of October.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Anna Lavelle:
And we are also having 2009 in Melbourne but that's going to be inaugural regional meeting looking at the Asia Pacific region and trying very hard to get serious presence here from the countries in our region so that companies coming from Europe or from the USA can truly do regional shopping not just Australian shopping.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So that's 2009, 2008 having you know we are more or less towards the end of 2007 AusBiotech and what having you know gone through the experience of this year's 2007 what would you like to see achieved in 2008 and why should somebody want to come along to Melbourne 2008?
Anna Lavelle:
Well the key thing that I picked up in this conference is the incredible activity in the partnering measures and if anything that's growing enormously last year we had about 20 meeting rooms now we have 27, I can see that we are going to be pretty more next year. So I am already thinking about how can we manipulate the program to allow enough time to companies to really enjoy those meetings without feeling that they are being turned and missing out because they can't go to presentations and they can't really do other things that are on offer. So what we tried this year was some settle lot of things and that seem to work quite well so we'll look at that for next year. But the other thing that I think it's very important when we have guests coming to our conferences to not only look after their business but look after them. So we make sure that we give you a good social experience as well as a good business experience because that I think is the complexity of this industry we have a need for both of those elements.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So I suppose one of the important things you know this one key message from this year's AusBiotech I suppose is the importance of networking?
Anna Lavelle:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
And as you said you are implementing, so I suppose it's getting trying to get the balance between giving people the opportunity to network which is being as you said pretty successful this year but also having the other sessions which inform and educate make people more aware of the not just the internal Australian issues but the global issues as well?
Anna Lavelle:
Yes, it will summarize I think that's exactly right. But we are a business conference where we have truly moved away from being an academic conference we did that some years ago but I think 2007 has really cemented that change and this year the feedback that I am giving you is that people are doing a lot of business, they are meeting with people, they are sitting down with angel investors, VC's and others and talking about their future company prospects and that's what we need to see that's the way our industry is going to develop and grow.
Fintan Walton:
Sure. Well Anna Lavelle, I'd like to thank you for coming along on the show and telling us all about AusBiotech and the annual conventions as well. Thank you very much indeed.
Anna Lavelle:
Thank you very much Fintan Walton.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Anna Lavelle
CEO
Dr. Anna Lavelle was appointed inaugural CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech in June 2005. She is also a member of the Pharmaceutical Industry Council. Previously Dr Anna Lavelle joined the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) in 1998 as Director responsible for Strategic Planning and Business Development. In 2002, Dr Anna Lavelle was appointed Director of Intellectual Capital, in which role she was responsible for management of the national research and development programme. Before joining ARCBS, Dr Anna Lavelle had commenced employment as an academic at Monash University, Melbourne, after having gained her PhD in Genetics from the University of Melbourne.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
AusBiotech
AusBiotech is Australia's Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents over 2550 members and covers the human health, agricultural, medical device, bioinformatics, environmental and industrial sectors in biotechnology. The organization is dedicated to the development, growth and prosperity of the Australian biotechnology industry by providing initiatives to drive sustainability and growth, outreach and access to markets, and representation and support for members nationally and around the world.