12 Apr 2022

Medical biotech researchers call for more govt funds

8:20 am on 12 April 2022

Medical researchers want government support for biotechnology, which offers life-saving treatments as well as significant economic gains for New Zealand.

16495219 - scientist with dropper working  at the laboratory

Photo: 123RF

The Productivity Commission's latest report said the current legislation covering genetically modified (GM) organisms is not fit for purpose and needs to be reviewed.

"The problem is ... people are basically missing out on participating in clinical trials, which could literally save their lives," New Zealanders for Health Research chief executive Chris Higgins said.

"What our stakeholders are telling us is that the processes are not fit for purpose, and as a result, are very slow, cumbersome and unclear."

The government said it was open to informed conversations, but was concerned about damaging New Zealand's clean, green, global brand with the adoption of GM technologies.

However, the tech industry said biotech would enhance New Zealand's brand through sustainable development of food, agritech, and other types of biotech that supports the environment and can improve its resilience to climate change.

Higgins said the current legislation was also making it difficult for the sector to recruit or retain medical specialists, with government economic support about a quarter of what it should be.

"One of the things that's happening in the health and medical research sector in New Zealand is that we are significantly underfunded ... compared with other small advanced economies, and compared with the likes of Australia, UK and the United States, [which have] investments in health and medical research from the government," he said.

"So what that means is that people that want to get into that more cutting edge research, they don't have the opportunities to do that in New Zealand, so typically, they will go overseas."

The global biotech industry was valued at half a trillion US dollars in 2020 and forecast to continue growing at pace.

"In overseas countries, investing in health research yields a three- to four-fold return on that investment financially, so clearly if we were to invest in that research, it would pay huge dividends for us - not only in terms of life saved and improved, but also in terms of the economic benefits back to New Zealand as a country," Higgins said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs