Health research funding is not under threat, despite the convergence of different ministries, minister of economic development Steven Joyce says.
Responding to questions during a pharmaceutical symposium organised by Medicines New Zealand in Wellington, Mr Joyce says changes are around how public service is organised and not about how much money government is prepared to invest in certain types of research.
“Don’t over read into some of the reorganisations in government as to what impact that might have,” he says. He says a statement of science priorities is under discussion to prioritise how much money is spent on research and from which department.
“The idea of the ministry of business, innovation and employment is just to bring together a group of business facing agencies.”
Mr Joyce says these small agencies’ policy groups, which often have no more than the ability to “offer opinions” were not effective when dealing with a number of portfolios.
“Particularly when you have a consolidated health sector, a consolidated education sector, a consolidated social support sector and then in the wider area of the economy, research and innovation, science and the labour market, it is all atomised”.
He says the amalgamated ministry will have innovation at the centre of it and the most significant branch would be science and innovation branch.
The symposium, which saw a number of industry leaders taking part, was aimed at developing a common understanding of the challenges to growth in research in New Zealand, building on the work done by the health select committee in this area.
Mr Joyce said that government is working to implement some of the recommendations made by the select committee in this regard.
“We are aware there are difficulties in companies being able to access their local district health boards to test products and services,” he says, adding the creation of a health innovation hub, announced late last year, is hoped to streamline links between the health service and industry.
The health hub is due to be launched later this year.
Revenues across the health technology sector are currently under $2 billion per annum, a significant contribution to New Zealand's economic growth.
According to a report prepared for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, for each $1 million spend on the biotechnology industry, a further $1.03 million is created in the economy, resulting in a total output of $2.03 million.
For each $1 million of direct gross domestic product from the clinical trials industry, a further $ 950 000 is generated, resulting in a GDP multiplier for the industry of $1.95 million.
The industry also plays a vital role in job creation, for every full-time equivalent job in biotechnology, a further 2.41 jobs are created in the further economy, representing an employment multiplier for the industry of 3.41.
“New Zealand is recognised around the world for its clinical trials, we are lucky to have many dedicated professionals in this sector,” Mr Joyce says, adding government invests substantially in health research and technology companies.
Both these areas of investment include direct support for clinical trial; Mr Joyce says government is looking for companies to work across eachother, for mutual benefit.
“We are looking for industry scale and collaboration where it makes sense,” he says.
When questioned about government’s reluctance to pay for the outputs in niche medicines, despite a push for innovation, Mr Joyce said that would be more in the health area and that budget does “cause limitations”.