OPINION

Why we need to treat life sciences like mining - with a pioneering spirit.

Scientific discovery a precious commodity

The rollout of COVID vaccines across the world has demonstrated that life sciences, particularly drug discovery and development, benefit from a more proactive and less risk-averse approach.

In mining exploration, governments and enterprise are happy to take a chance on digging in a location based on an educated guess they might find the resources they're looking for.

But in the past, life sciences have not benefited from a similar approach - the barrier to exploration - in this case scientific exploration - is much higher. When COVID hit, those barriers were taken down.

Time, money and personnel were invested in several vaccine candidates around the world, in the full knowledge not all of them would bear fruit and look what happened - one or two didn't work, but many others did.

We need to learn that lesson and apply it to the many other problems the world needs to solve. The CSL-UQ vaccine being developed in Australia was and is a massively important piece of work and should be viewed as a natural stage in the overall COVID vaccine exploration phase.

It's a massive learning in terms of complexity and what's required from a project like this so next time we're facing a pandemic, we have that knowledge and expertise ready to go. Life science also makes a better long-term prospect because resources are finite, but the possibilities of life sciences are infinite. There are clear lessons from 2020 when it comes to treating life sciences like mining that we need to implement in future:

  • Throwing money at potential solutions works: The cost of developing a single epidemic infectious disease vaccine is between US$30 million and $60 million and assumes no risk of failure.
  • Dig the hole and see what you find: Exploration expenditure is around $2 billion annually in Australia as it's deemed a necessary part of the process, regardless of success.

It's also important to consider the emotion behind the developments, as we've learnt in 2020 that it's not so much about the vaccine itself, but what the vaccine can offer society.

The scientists and the chemists work their magic, which then allows not just for you to get a vaccine but to potentially jump on a plane and follow the dreams you had pre-pandemic.

A pioneering spirit is not just about discovery, it's about what that discovery allows us to do, feel and achieve. That's the path we have to follow.

Colin La Galia is the chief executive of Epichem.

This story Scientific discovery a precious commodity first appeared on The Canberra Times.