Short-term government policies ‘holding back innovation’

Chief executive of biotechnology giant urges governments to provide long-term clarity on support for research

April 19, 2021
Paul Perreault, chief executive of CSL Limited
Paul Perreault, chief executive of CSL Limited

Short-term national innovation strategies are harming industry’s ability to commit to research partnerships with universities, the head of one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies has told Times Higher Education’s Innovation & Impact Summit.

Paul Perreault, chief executive of CSL Limited, which employs more than 27,000 staff and had an annual turnover of $8.5 billion (£6.2 billion) in 2019, said the “unprecedented level of collaboration” between governments, companies and university researchers during the pandemic had underlined the importance of different sectors working together to create and manufacture innovative new products.

But Mr Perreault, whose Melbourne-headquartered company is manufacturing 50 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for use in Australia, said government policies towards supporting innovation were often defined by their short-term thinking. “What we can learn from this [pandemic] is the sponsorship of innovation agendas,” he told the online event, which is being held jointly by the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, and America’s Pennsylvania State University.

“If you really believe in innovation, and you want to prepare for the future, make sure that the innovation policies are sustainable,” he added, stating that too often policies were dictated by “who is in power at the time, which party and who in parliament is really driving things”.

That did not necessarily mean committing vast resources to research spending or subsidising industrial research, said Mr Perreault, who has led CSL, one of the world’s leading vaccine suppliers, since 2013. Instead, long-term stability was required.

“It does not have to be putting billions of dollars into industry, because industry has been self-sustaining in many ways, [because] the profits from business are put back in research and innovation,” explained Mr Perreault, adding that: “In our industry, if you not innovating, you should be managing your exit from a market.

“What happens is that governments fund and defund research agendas based on their political parties or priorities – they need to know that science takes time…typically innovation, new products and changes that are transformational take somewhere between seven to 10 years to develop.

“If you are constantly moving the policies and support for an innovation agenda, then industry gets a bit confused in terms of: ‘Should I just be doing this on my own?’ or ‘Should I be partnering with government or universities?’” he concluded, saying companies were baffled because “the incentives constantly change”.

In addition to improving government-industry collaborations, there should also be a push to improve company-to-company collaboration that was stymied not just by the profit motive but sometimes by regulators, said Mr Perreault.

“Look at the sharing in the pandemic, we need to learn from that,” he said. “This is the time we can collaborate, discuss, debate and share important information [to improve] human health,” he concluded.

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