Start-up on mission to save research funds
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Chris Jeffery is a young doctor on a mission. He wants to combat what he says is “wasted Australian research dollars” and is confident he has developed just the model to target that cause.
The 31-year-old’s path to reach this mission was triggered by a passion for medicine that was developed during his deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan while working as an electrical engineer with the Australian Army. He says it was while helping treat bomb victims that he decided to become a surgeon.
“Over there I fell in love with medicine, particularly orthopaedics because all the trauma hospitals were manned by orthopaedic surgeons that were treating bomb victims,” he says. "I decided in the nine months that I was over there that I wanted to be a surgeon."
Jeffery has since not only qualified to become a doctor, he has also turned his mind to developing medical devices. One of his early successes has been the creation of a micro screw for use in orthopaedic surgery. The product is deemed commercially viable and has been pre-sold in the US ahead of regulatory approval in that market, which he expects any day.
Jeffery says the Field Micro Screw has had overwhelming support from the Australian orthopaedic surgical community and endorsement by leading surgeons internationally. He set up orthopaedic innovation and devices company Field Orthopaedics to commercialise the product and says his company has since excelled at “translation”, which he argues is a gap in the Australian industry.
Jeffery believes that a privatised research model, where the purpose and focus on translation is paramount, is the answer to addressing that gap. He is working with doctors and private funders through Field Orthopaedics to establish and scale a viable private research model.
He believes his model will increase translation success and reduce misguided spending of public dollars on health and medical research. Jeffery isn’t just preaching to others: he is putting his money where his mouth is and for the next five years 100 per cent of Field Orthopaedics’ profits will be directed into R&D. He has built a team that looks at what medical problems need solving and then they set out to develop a product to be sold to device companies. The company has invested over $1 million in the last year on private research activities and has attracted close to a further $1m in matched government support.
With this funding Field Orthopaedics has led and seen results in five innovative products. These products include one that will see a decrease in surgical related infections, a glue that can stick unrepairable bone fractures back together and shoulder implants to fix tendon injuries among others.
It was during his studies at the University of Queensland that Jeffery first turned his head towards the commercial side of medicine after one of the deans paid for five students to do an MBA during medical school. “That was my first understanding of business principals and it made me look at medical practice a lot different,” he says. Jeffery adds that it soon became apparent to him that Australians were good at research, running academic centres, creating PhD students and producing publications.
But he says what they weren’t so good at was translation, that there were few companies coming out of universities, or commercial IP being created. “We are ranked number 73 on the global innovation index for innovation efficiency, which is a big problem given we are so good at research,” he says. “Every university has a commercialisation unit, but they don’t have a mandate.
“In Australia we have a lot of qualified individuals, but students are not given any direction or commercial anchoring. They are told to go solve a problem that leads to a publication or presentation,” he says. “We don’t get to the point of the problem, which is the issue — we’ve lost the point.”
Jeffery has presented his model to universities, adding that he is trying to find ways for better collaboration. He says there are universities that want to look at adopting the translation model he has created. “The collaborative model empowers users to set the mandate and say these are the real problems,” Jeffery says. “I would like to change the metrics we measure our research performance on, from publications and presentations to meaningful discovery and patents. “Rather than celebrate a professor’s data, we should be talking about the kid that can now hear to inspire us and remind us why we are doing it.”