May 2019 Sydney Morning Herald

One of the country's most senior business leaders has called on both sides of politics to provide more support to biotech companies or risk them heading overseas. Rick Holliday-Smith, the chairman of the Australian Securities Exchange, ear implant maker Cochlear and drug maker QBiotics, has written to senior figures in the two main political parties as part of lobbying efforts for the life science sector. Mr Holliday-Smith argues in the letter that other countries have created conditions that allow for smaller biotech companies to thrive through better policy initiatives and patient investment cultures. "Other countries and market participants are doing much better than Australia in creating long-term sustainable outcomes," Mr Holliday-Smith said in a letter to the opposition spokesman for innovation, Kim Carr in March.

Rick Holliday Smith

Cochlear chairman Rick Holliday-Smith lobbied the government in March

He warned smaller companies may be taken over or forced to leave Australia unless they can compete more fairly with big overseas players. "QBiotics wants to remain an Australian company, and not be bought by a big overseas pharmaceutical company," he said. "Almost all globally applicable Australian research and development in the areas of pharmaceuticals, bio and medical technology, veterinary products or life sciences are bought by overseas interests," he said.

The lobbying effort is being helped by Steve Michelson, former aide to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, with Cochlear and QBiotics paying the costs. The ASX has not contributed to the cost.

"We have long voiced a need for a bipartisan approach to ensure global businesses remain in Australia and continue to create high paying jobs in Australia," a Cochlear spokeswoman said.

"The Australian Securities Exchange is supportive of this effort, which is being led by Cochlear and QBiotics."

Mr Holliday-Smith goes on to to add in his letter to Senator Carr that there are only two life science companies that sit in the top 50 of the ASX and more needs to be done to ensure the growth of the industry. "ASX cares about Cochlear staying in Australia, and new aspirants like QBiotics listing in Australia.” Meanwhile, managing director of QBiotics, Victoria Gordon said the problem in Australia was not a lack of innovation. "The problem is we don’t have suitable funding sources to support appropriate company establishment, and product development through to proof of concept."

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