By Dr Gregor Ferguson
The 2016 Defence White Paper was significant for a number of reasons but for Dr Felicia Pradera, Program Manager Medical Countermeasures within DST’s Land Division at Fishermans Bend it was ground-breaking. For the first time its inclusion reflected both an official acknowledgement that medical countermeasures were a critical defence requirement, and funding from the Next Generation- Technology Fund (NGTF) would be allocated to develop this national capability.
Medical countermeasures (MCM) are vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics against Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) threats, emerging infectious diseases and pandemics. It has been said that a CBR threat does not care whether you are wearing a military uniform or not. Therefore MCMs have relevance to both civilian and military personnel making it a national security issue.
This is the day to day focus of Dr Pradera who works for both DST Group and, on secondment, at Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), where she is the MCM Program Leader. DMTC plays an important role in the Defence Innovation System. In relation to MCM alone, it is facilitating a body of R&D activity in collaboration with some 32 industry and research partners that’s designed to deliver enhanced capability for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). DST is a key partner of the DMTC program.
Australia has world-class bio-medical researchers and manufacturers in this specialist domain, she points out, but not enough of them. And the linkages between them aren’t sufficiently robust that they amount to a cohesive national capability to respond in an integrated way to a sudden event. The unique and challenging characteristics of MCMs, with national governments as the sole customer, add to this imperative to nurture and mobilise researchers and manufacturers with the right mix of skills.
The DMTC program aims to tackle this persistent shortage of expertise by injecting funding and strategic guidance into what is currently a fragile but important eco-system. The goal is to be able to harness a disparate team of researchers, development laboratories and manufacturers across the country to develop and deliver a suitable response as quickly as possible depending on the threat.
Dr Pradera acknowledges that this activity requires effective collaboration across a broad range of government stakeholders including the Department of Defence represented by both DST and Joint Health Command; the Department of Health; the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Health security is key component of national security.
Why work with DMTC? While MCM is a step away from DMTCs traditional focus on materials such as steel, titanium, composites and body armour, the DMTC has some critical research strengths that no other organisation in Australia can match in this context. It understands Defence intimately; it understands applied research and commercialisation; CSIRO and DST who drive MCMs are already partners of DMTC, so they’re familiar with its organisation and methods; it has the program management, governance and co-investment models that support commercialisation and commercial relationships; it understands industry as well as academia, and therefore commercialisation pathways. Most importantly, says Dr Pradera, it has ISO9001 and ISO44001 accreditation which is vital for international credibility in medical R&D.
DST in partnership with CSIRO and DMTC are advancing technologies and workforce capabilities in line with the national preparedness strategy. The current program is exercising the muscles of collaboration which is essential for Australia’s MCM capability, says Dr Pradera. Whereas Australia once had what could have been described as A-class components but D-class wiring. This integrated approach is allowing the collaborative mechanisms to work effectively and efficiently so that in the event of CBR threat the right team can be triggered to deliver a quick and effective MCM response that protects Australian lives.
This article was first published in DST Outlook 2018, you can access the full article at https://issuu.com/faircountmediaasia-pacific/docs/defence_science_and_technology_outl/106.