With so many lives at stake in Asia and Africa, the imperative for investment in tropical disease research has never been stronger. More than 40 per cent of the world's population live in tropical regions and the proportion is growing. In 2013, an estimated 198 million people were infected with malaria worldwide and 584,000 died, mostly young children [1]. Dengue infections in 2013 were estimated at 390 million, with half the world's population at risk [2].

Australia provides opportunities in invest in the research, development and clinical validation of new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for tropical diseases. With world-class research institutions, biotechnology companies and collaborative research and clinical networks, Australia is both a world leader in medical research and at the frontline for tropical diseases such as dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, rabies and Hendra Virus.

[1] World Health Organisation, World Malaria Report 2014.
[2] World Health Organisation, Dengue and severe dengue. Fact sheet no. 117. Updated May 2015.

Why Australia

Organisations looking to invest in innovative health and medical technologies will find a network of research institutions and biotech companies with a track record of commercial success.

World-class R&D

Australia's research institutions, biotech companies and collaborative networks offer a range of scientific disciplines and areas of infectious disease expertise. Investors can benefit from:

  • research excellence and a collaborative culture
  • capabilities in medicinal chemistry, immunology, clinical trials and public health
  • accessible world-class research infrastructure
  • biodiversity in the natural environment, providing potential for new drug discovery
  • a strong patent system that protects novel intellectual property
  • proximity to regions where tropical diseases are endemic, providing opportunities for field studies and clinical validation of discoveries made in Australia.

Australian researchers conduct clinical studies locally and throughout the Asia-pacific region, including in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Facilities include state-of-the-art pathogen and insect containment facilities such as the Mosquito Control Laboratory at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, where many aspects of vector biology and disease transmission are studied.

Australian Tropical Medicines Commercialisation Grants Programme

The Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation Grants programme helps Australian businesses and public sector research organisations to develop pathways to commercialise Australian tropical medical research in partnership with international organisations.  Grant funding totalling $7.1 million will help build connections between Australian research institutes and the global health sector, including international pharmaceutical companies and philanthropic organisations.

The Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation programme guidelines were amended on 9 February 2016 to allow a wider range of entities to apply for funding. This includes removing the previous requirement for applicants to be incorporated and non tax-exempt.

Applications for the Programme closed on 4 March 2016. The assessment of all eligible application has been completed. Twelve applications have been successful, four are from Victoria, four are from Queensland, two are from NSW and two are from WA. Five of the successful applicants are private companies, two are independent research institutes and five are from Australian universities. Download the list of successful applicants (PDF).

Further information regarding the Programme can be found here

Supportive government

The Australian Government is committed to supporting innovation and the commercialisation of Australian research. the Government is also keen to confront major tropical health security risks before they become established public health emergencies.

In 2014 alone, the Australian Government committed:

  • A$42 million for tropical health and medicine research at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, through the Australian Research Council's Special Research Initiatives scheme. The funds support research in virology and disease control, and the development of new treatments and vaccines
  • A$18 million to the Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Disease Threats Trust Fund, established by the Asian Development Bank. This fund supports efforts to contain the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria
  • A$10 million to the Global Alliance for Tuberculosis Drug Development (TB Alliance)
  • A$10 million to Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).

In 2015, the Australian Government announced a A$15.4 million initiative to support tropical disease research. This initiative includes the A$8.5 million Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation Grants Programme.

Specialist tropical research

Opportunities exist for partnerships with Australia's research institutes and networks, particularly for investors with commercialisation expertise.

Organisations developing new treatments and solutions for tropical diseases

  • University of Queensland is discovering potential treatments and diagnostics for Dengue Fever and other tropical diseases, including research with its partners in the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre
  • James Cook University in Queensland undertakes research into tropical health, medicine and biosecurity. Novel research includes therapies for inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and other disorders using the therapeutic properties of hookworm proteins.
  • Menzies School of Health Research in the Northern Territory tackles areas of public health concern in the Asia-Pacific region, including malaria, tuberculosis, bacterial infections and maternal and child health and nutrition. It has partners in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia.
  • Centenary Institute is researching new vaccines and drug candidates for tuberculosis
  • University of Adelaide has discovered new drug candidates for the treatment of malaria
  • University of Melbourne is developing new therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostic tests for malaria and other vector-borne tropical diseases
  • University of Sydney is using open source methods to create and resynthesise drugs for neglected tropical diseases such as Schistosomiasis
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) has developed a vaccine that protects against all five species of malaria in pre-clinical animal models. The WEHI vaccine, potentially the world's first multistage, universal vaccine for malaria, requires a relatively modest investment to scale-up production for a human clinical trial.
  • Burnet institute is Australia's largest virology and communicable disease research institute working on malaria, tuberculosis and other infections disease. New technologies include a prophylactic vaccine for Hepatitis C.
  • The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity specialises in infection and immunity research. Priority areas include tuberculosis, HIV and dengue fever.
  • RMIT University is using nanotechnology to develop an inexpensive device for detecting malaria.
  • Griffith University has an anti-malaria compound discovery research program and a leading malaria vaccine research program.
  • Monash University leads the worldwide Eliminate Dengue project, based on using the Wolbachia bacteria to control the transmission of the dengue virus.
  • QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute is investigating the effectiveness of malaria drugs in clinical trials. It is also testing potential malaria vaccines in Queensland and with the PNG Institute of medical Research in PNG. QIMR Berghofer also investigates how parasites such as the malaria parasite, hookworm, threadworm and scabies cause disease and become drug resistant. QIMRB is partnered with UQ in the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre in Brisbane.
  • Q-Pharm Pty Ltd, based at QIMR Berghofer, undertakes early (Phase 1 and 2) clinical trials, including trials for developing new drugs and vaccines for malaria.

Biotechnology companies active in the field of tropical medicine

  • Medicines Development for Global Health, a not-for-profit organisation, secured a US$10 million investment from the UK-based Global Health Investment Fund. The investment will help fund the development of moxidectin for the treatment of river blindness (Onchocerciasis), which causes serious mortality and morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Suda Ltd has reformulated a well-known malaria drug for delivery under the tongue, a convenient route of administration for children in developing countries.
  • Epichem Ltd is developing small molecule drugs for cryptosporidiosis, trypanosomiasis and other parasitic diseases with the support of the global philanthropic organisation, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi).
  • Atomo Diagnostics Pty Ltd is bringing next generation rapid diagnostic solutions to market and has launched the world's first integrated rapid malaria test, AtomoRapid TM.
  • Opal Biosciences is developing new drugs for schistosomiasis and tuberculosis.
  • Sementis Pty Ltd is developing a vaccine for the control of chikungunya disease.

Investor Update

International links

Australian research institutions have strong links to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, DNDi, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), and other global health organisations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than A$35 million to research in Australia since 2000, including world-leading research into the control and elimination of dengue fever and malaria.

Eliminate Dengue

An international team led by Professor Scott O'Neill of Monash University has developed a natural method to reduce the spread of dengue fever across the tropics using the Wolbachia bacteria, which blocks replication of the dengue virus in mosquitoes. Program funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tahija Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Gillespie Foundation and Australian, Queensland and Braxilian governments.

Professor O'Neill and other dengue experts such as Professor Paul young from the University of Queensland, and Professor Cameron Simmons from the University of Melbourne, are part of the global effort to eradicate dengue, a disease which infects 390 million people every year.

For more information on this project to beat and treat dengue read the article 'Australia's Mosquito Men' from the Australia Unlimited website.

Rapid field diagnosis of HIV

Rapid testing is an increasingly important weapon in the fight to bring HIVAids under control in South Africa and other disease-burdened countries. A Sydney-based company, Atomo Diagnostics, is bringing to market AtomoRapid TM HIV, an innovative all-in-one rapid HIV test that significantly improves ease of use and the reliability of rapid HIV testing the field. In 2014, Atomo won the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Industry Excellence Award announced at the AusBiotech national conference.