Entrepreneurs and researchers will collaborate to develop new medical technologies for healthcare and diagnostics thanks to a new $16.7 million funding facility based at RMIT University. The Victorian Medical Device Prototyping and Scale-Up Facility has been announced today by Minister for Higher Education Gayle Tierney, supported through $12.7 million in funding from the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF).
What were the executives’ thoughts on the funding?
The state-of-the-art facility, to be developed at RMIT’s City campus, will help cement Victoria’s unique position as a medical device manufacturing and prototyping hub for Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. “This is a significant investment in medical technology that will drive innovation to support the healthcare needs of people across Australia,” Tierney said.
RMIT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and VP, Prof Calum Drummond AO, said the initiative would create jobs, develop skills and build future opportunities, to advance post-pandemic renewal. “RMIT is proud to work together with the Victorian Govt to support a thriving innovation ecosystem for Victoria, driven by academic and industry partnership.”
“The skills required to design, build, integrate, operate and use data from medical devices cover every sector and will be integral to economic recovery and sovereign capability. This facility bridges the gap between research and impact, supporting the deep collaborations we need to accelerate the translation of brilliant ideas into innovative, home-grown tech.”
Prof Sharath Sriram, RMIT Project Leader and Co-Director of RMIT’s Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, said the medical devices developed would improve lives. “The home-grown tech and solutions we develop here will benefit critical support and care sectors including disability support, mental health, aged care and family violence,” Sriram said.
“This facility gives us the sovereign capability to go from design to a validated diagnostic product, with sufficient quantities to undertake clinical and field trials,” Sriram added.
What does the facility mean for Australia?
The ISO-accredited facility is the first of its kind in Australia and the APAC and will be accessible to universities and industry across the region for cohorts on wearables (wireless electronic devices that can be worn as accessories, embedded in clothing or implanted in the body), nearables (smart devices that can sense and send data but don’t need to be attached to a person) and flexible medical technologies (soft, skin-like and ultralight electronics).
Led by RMIT University, the consortium includes universities (Swinburne University, Deakin University, Monash University), industry partners (Sleeptite, Nutromics, Soterius, Vlepis, nthalmic, Innovative Manufacturing CRC), quality management and design firms (Brandwood CKC, Fluffy Spider Technologies, Outerspace Design, Design+Industry) and peak bodies (Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre, Cooperative Research Australia, MTP Connect).
Innovative home-grown tech
The new funding facility’s distinct focus on wearables and nearables expands the capabilities and commercial potential of Melbourne’s renowned biomedical research sector. Keeping design and manufacturing local, the funding facility will support the development and commercialisation of innovative technologies, with initial projects set to include:
- A sensor for detecting COVID-19 and infectious respiratory diseases like influenza
- Smart bedding products for aged care, using stretchable electronics technology
- Minimally-invasive wearables for health monitoring and diagnostics
Cameron van den Dungen, CEO of Melbourne-based research and advanced manufacturing company Sleeptite, said the lack of onshore capability was a major roadblock for the commercial translation of fundamental breakthroughs made by Australian researchers.
“Research and manufacturing in healthcare is undergoing a dramatic transformation and this facility will ensure Aussie firms like Sleeptite have the ability to be leaders in this space, employ local workers and essentially keep Aussie IP truly Australian,” van den Dungen said.
“The facility will ensure we can bring our critical research and product development activity back home to Melbourne. This investment from the Victorian Gov’t will incentivise Aussie medical and biotech firms, like Sleeptite, to manufacture and commercialise their products onshore, encouraging innovation for the sector and strengthening our sovereign capability.”
The Victorian Medical Device Prototyping and Scale-Up Facility will be a one-of-a-kind pathway for medical device accreditation, attracting talent and investment in the long run.
The VHESIF funding initiative behind this announcement was developed in response to the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic on universities. The same round of funding will also support an electric vehicles (EV) applied research facility at RMIT University.
Both projects are part of the Victorian Government’s $62.5 million investment in RMIT to support post-pandemic economic and social recovery in Melbourne, including $44.6 million in VHESIF funding to continue the development of RMIT’s social innovation precinct.
Advanced manufacturing and design ecosystem
The facility will be complemented by a dynamic manufacturing ecosystem of partners who will collaborate with start-ups and SMBs to support new ideas from concept through planning, prototyping, scale-up, trials, design, user experience, data insights and commercialisation. An engagement program will lift participation of young people and women in STEM, working closely with schools and career counsellors to showcase careers in STEM and advanced tech.
The facility will support the development of new tech in a booming field, with spending on wearables expected to total $81.5bn this year – an 18.1% leap from $69bn in 2020. The Victorian Medical Device Prototyping and Scale-Up Facility will be in operation by mid 2023.