British pharmaceutical giant GSK’s Australian outfit has opened a $7.7 million pilot vaccine facility in Victoria, a collaboration between industry and academia.
Geoff McDonald, vice-president and general manager of GSK Australia, said if successful the Victorian facility would be the first to commercially produce a vaccine delivered using blow-fill-seal technology.
GSK Australia said it hoped the method could curb vaccination costs, in turn helping more children in developing countries access potentially lifesaving treatment. A collaboration between GSK’s Boronia team in Victoria and Monash University, with global vaccine experts in Belgium, developed the “groundbreaking” way to use blow-fill-seal (BFS) technology to manufacture a vaccine. In a single process, BFS technology forms the container, fills it with the sterile liquid then seals the container to maintain a high assurance of sterility.
Associate professor David Morton, head of the Monash-GSK collaboration, said a “hunch” from a student was one of the starting points for the development of the process. He said the student wanted to determine if the heat from the plastic moulding would cook the biological material, making it useless.
Mr Morton added that the key knowledge to success and innovation lied in industry, not in academia. “We don’t get that in universities and we are not motivated to get that because our funding is so one dimensional,” he said. “It encourages academics to review and support academics. There’s no fundamental system that encourages me to go and say ‘let’s work with industry as a priority.’ Until we get that in Australia, we will undervalue our intellectual strength.”
The industry expert said while Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation statement was a positive for Australia, he said the Prime Minister had a “hell of a job” overcoming the inertia in the system.
“You have to find a more systemic way of motivating academics to get out and talk to people outside,” he said. “Those innovation statements have to include a real systemic change in the funding model that says industry money is equal to, or superior to, basic research money coming from the government.”
GSK invested $7.7 million in the new facility and they had also received a $1m federal government grant for the project.
“All of our funding has come from a Melbourne-based fund, the factory of Boronia has to be self-funding, it’s not a big R&D budget from some big multinational, it is a local budget from Australia, employing Australians,” Mr Morton said.
GSK’s Mr McDonald said the opening of the facility was a big initiative for pharmaceutical manufacturing in Australia.
The pharmaceutical industry is the second-largest exporter of manufactured goods in Australia. In 2014, Australian “medicinal and pharmaceutical products” exports totalled $2.923 billion. With GSK Australia’s exports at $437m for the 2014 calendar year, it represented about 15 per cent of the industry’s total exports.