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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals
i Prosperous pioneers
ii War-time pharmaceutical chemistry
iii Commonwealth Serum Laboratories
iv Post-war pharmaceutical manufacture
v Public sector policies

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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Public sector policies

The history of Australian pharmaceutical manufacture and innovation is inseparable from public sector policies and its dichotomies. While science policies have, on the whole, supported it, particularly in recent years, economic policies and regulations have not. Under a succession of Government supported health schemes prices were consistently set at the minimum international level so as to reduce the burden of public health costs; the CSIRO has been barred by its constitution from medical research (with some minor recent exceptions); its veterinary R&D, aimed at maximising benefits to farmers, did not allow local producers exclusive patent rights on the local market and produced no drugs of international significance; and the Industry Assistance Commission as recently as in its 1985 Draft Report[71] stated its view

that because of Australia's small share of the world market, prices and total returns potentially available in the domestic market would have minimal impact on decisions to develop products in Australia for the international market.

Yet Australia has a long tradition of outstanding medical research in universities and centres of excellence such as the Walter and Eliza Hall and Howard Florey Institutes and a high level of skills in organic chemistry and biochemistry in universities, CSIRO and industries. The National Health and Medical Research Council and these institutes have been generously endowed from public funds, at least by comparison with other areas and comparable small nations. The benefit of this research flows primarily to humanity, the international pool of medical science -but indirectly to the international producers of drugs. Indeed, if medical researchers wish to be at the forefront of chemotherapy they have to -and do -work on the drugs of the pharmaceutical majors. Attempts to feed research results to local companies or to those subsidiaries of international companies which do undertake some local R&D have been sporadic and unco-ordinated. In the virtual absence of toxicological evaluation facilities acceptable to overseas registration authorities local discoveries tend to be in the class of 'good ideas' rather than proven effects with commercial value.

Perhaps it is only to be expected that, despite native talent, remote Australia has not become one of the small nations which have an international pharmaceutical industry. If so, the lessons of history and of the impact of public sector policies are worth noting at a time when so many of Australian research resources and hopes are being placed in biotechnology -the second wave of biotechnology -and when so much of it relates primarily to human and animal health.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Howard Florey Institute; Industry Assistance Commission; National Health and Medical Research Council (N.H.M.R.C.); Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 665 - 667, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher