CSL hunts for startups to keep local ideas, research onshore

World News

Biotech giant CSL is on the hunt for startups to move into its new Melbourne headquarters as it launches an incubator program designed to commercialise Australian ideas and keep research onshore.

The $144.5 billion coronavirus vaccine maker has inked a deal with the University of Melbourne and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute to launch a $95 million incubator project, which will also be supported by the Victorian government’s Breakthrough Victoria Fund.

A centrifuge at CSL’s new plasma fractionation facility at Broadmeadows, which will increase the company’s plasma processing capacity in Australia to 9 million litres a year, from 1.2 million. Credit:Eddie Jim

The incubator, which is set to launch in 2023, will have space for up to 40 Australian companies that are looking to move their early stage research towards commercialisation. The companies will be based at CSL’s new global headquarters on Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street and have access to office space, equipment and lab facilities.

The collaboration comes as the country focuses on manufacturing its own medical products including vaccines following the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSL chief executive Paul Perreault said the program was also designed to help researchers learn how to bring new products to market. “We are well positioned to support incubator residents, whose experience often lies purely within the lab, to better understand commercial aspects of medicines’ development that may be foreign or new to them,” he said.

CSL’s chief scientific officer Andrew Nash said he hoped the program would help upskill local researchers and allow the retention of more local research into the future.

The biotech sector has been vocal throughout the pandemic about the difficulties that researchers face in bringing their ideas to market, with many entrepreneurs going offshore to launch products.

Walter and Eliza Hall director, Professor Doug Hilton, said he hoped the incubator project would create “a generation of corporate and management-skilled scientists”.

The Victorian government has made a range of investments in biotech projects in recent months, including for acceleration of mRNA technology in the state.

In May, it established mRNA Victoria, a new group to oversee the state’s manufacturing capability for mRNA vaccines.

A number of local startups have also put their hands up to help with local mRNA production, including CSL, which has made a pitch to the federal government for involvement in mRNA manufacturing.

Earlier this year, Mr Nash told this masthead it was challenging for Australian researchers to understand what their career paths might look like outside of the lab, and that CSL could help show younger researchers the opportunities that exist.

“I believe we’re on the cusp of something really good happening. I think we’re in as strong a position now as we’ve ever been,” he said.

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