During the decade from 1990 to 1999 the NHMRC invested $1.41 billion of public money into 6,192 new health and medical research grants for the benefit of all Australians. On average 619 new grants valued at $141.2 million were awarded each year.
The three main sources of research funding in the 1990-1999 period were:
- investigator initiated, generally three-year NHMRC Project Grants (3,745 new grants awarded valued at $755 million);
- five-year Program Grants awarded to research teams (52 new grants valued at $122.3 million); and
- more than $256 million for five block-funded medical research institutes.
Also included in new funding for 1990-1999 were 1,369 awards totaling $125.4 million to support the career development and training of individual researchers, including 490 postdoctoral training fellowships ($77.5 million) and 879 postgraduate scholarships ($47.9 million).
Australian health and medical research capacity was strengthened in 1990-99 through an investment of $59.8 million in 1,632 new researchers.
In 1999, Peter Wills, AC, chaired a Strategic Investment Review of Health and Medical Research for the Australian Government (Wills Review). The report of that review is available on the Department of Health and Ageing website.
One of the key outcomes of that review was an additional $614 million for the NHMRC over six years from 2000-01 to 2005-06 to provide further benefit to the wellbeing of all Australians through health and medical research. The Australian Government required that a further review be held within five years.
Following the Wills Review, the NHMRC undertook a reshaping of its funding schemes and, in consultation with those affected, decided not to continue with block funding of the medical research institutes. Transitional arrangements were put in place to enable this to occur over several years and the result has been that all NHMRC funded research is now allocated as a result of competitive peer review.
Another important outcome was the recognition that some NHMRC funding needed to be used for strategic research activities targeted at emerging health issues, potential gaps in knowledge of particular health issues, and in addressing the Australian Government's National Research Priorities. The NHMRC also committed to spending at least 5% of its research funding on Indigenous health issues.
The NHMRC's response to the Wills Review and the additional investment that resulted from that review was reported in the NHMRC's Performance Measurement Report 2000-2003.
In its 2003 report for the Australian Society for Medical Research (Exceptional Returns - The Value of Investing in Health R&D in Australia), Access Economics estimated that there was an overall $5 return for every $1 invested in health and medical research. The report also suggested that for cardiovascular disease the return for $1 was $8, and $6 for research into respiratory conditions.
In 2004, John Grant, Chair of Biota Holdings and a current board member of Research Australia, chaired the committee appointed by the Australian Government to undertake the Investment Review of Health and Medical Research (Grant Review). The final report of that review is available on the Department of Health and Ageing website.
The Australian Government's response to the Grant Review has included increasing funding to the NHMRC and to the Australian health and medical research sector more generally.
The NHMRC increases have included:
- $200 million over seven years for infrastructure funding for NHMRC-accredited medical research institutes, provided through the Backing Australia Ability program
- $500 million over five years from 2006-07 for NHMRC health and medical research; and
- $170 million over nine years for a new Australia Fellowship scheme.
In addition, the Australian Government has provided funding that will support important health and medical research infrastructure and research capacity throughout Australia - this included $215 million committed in 2005-06 and a further $489 million in 2006-07.
In the eight years since the Wills Review, the Australian Government has increased its investment into health and medical research through 7,550 new NHMRC-funded grants valued at more than $3.2 billion, an 125% increase over the amount invested over the ten-year 1990-1999 period. On average 945 new grants valued at more than $409 million have been awarded annually (a 190% increase over the 1990-1999 average annual investment).
The strong growth in research funding is demonstrated by the increase in the number of new awards made, from 687 in 2000 to 1,202 in 2007. New investment increased from $164 million in 2000 to more than $630 million in 2007, a 290% increase over the average annual funding for 1990-1999.
The main categories of research funding over 2000-2007 have been:
- investigator initiated, generally three-year NHMRC Project Grants (3,736 new grants awarded, valued at $1.41 billion - an 82% increase over the previous ten years);
- five-year Program Grants awarded to research teams (93 new awards valued at $667 million - a 445% increase over 1990-1999 funding); and
- more than $275 million for new funding for strategic research issues.
At 1,835 awards, the number of new awards to support the career development and training of individual researchers in 2000-2007 is already up 34% over the ten years of 1990-1999. The investment in these new awards, at $346.2 million, represents an 175% increase in new funding compared to 1990-1999. This increased investment includes 262 new awards for mid- and early-career development opportunities, 747 postdoctoral training fellowships ($191.6 million) and 826 postgraduate scholarships ($56 million).
Australian health and medical research capacity has also improved over 2000-2007 through an investment of $135.5 million in 1,632 new researchers (the scholarship holders mentioned earlier) and 753 new investigators entering through the NHMRC Project Grants scheme.