Biotechs seek data-crunching role amid wait for COVID-19 vaccine

Australia's biotechnology heavyweights, including CSL, are calling for governments to use a broader range of expertise and data-driven insights from across the sector to manage the critical period between when cities reopen and the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine.

"A vaccine may be some way off and so it makes sense to draw from a pool of expertise and resources from groups – including business, academia, industry, community organisations and government –to find ways to co-exist with and manage the risks associated with this pandemic," A CSL spokeswoman said.

CSL chief executive Paul Perreault.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

At the start of the week, CSL chief executive Paul Perreault questioned Victoria's curfew and road map out of lockdown in an interview with ABC's The Business, saying the government should take another look at the data behind the plan.

Mr Perreault said CSL had data scientists who specialised in this kind of modelling and he was open to engaging more with government.

When asked whether CSL would like to be more involved in offering its data expertise when deciding on future lockdowns or restrictions, a spokeswoman said it made sense to draw expertise from a range of sources.

"This is going to require data-driven decision making that is refreshed as the situation evolves, as well as sustainable, long-term planning, informed by people with the right domain expertise."

Victoria recorded 42 new cases of the virus on Wednesday. Melbourne will have restrictions eased further on September 28 if the city's 14-day average of new cases is between 30 and 50 cases.

Managing director of Roche Diagnostics Australia Allison Rossiter said it was important "as many voices as possible" were involved in planning reopenings, but that they must be "voices with evidence".

Allison Rossiter is the managing director of Roche Diagnostics in Australia.

Roche Diagnostics has been a major importer of coronavirus tests throughout the pandemic, and Ms Rossiter said it was more important that ever that governments had strong relationships with and insights from businesses.

She said even at this point in the pandemic collaboration was needed to make decisions, including on which new kinds of tests should be imported, as rapid testing options start to become more readily available.

"This [collaboration] is happening a little bit already, but a strong collaboration must continue so that we can bring the best solutions," she said.

Founder of ASX-listed artificial intelligence data analytics startup Opyl, Michelle Gallaher, said she was "delighted" to see governments prioritising data when planning lockdown policies.

Opyl has been developing an artificial intelligence tool for predicting whether a drug or vaccine is likely to succeed in a clinical trial, and the company has recently started to apply this tool to COVID-19 treatment projects.

Ms Gallaher said her business has insights and expertise it would love to share with governments, but it was difficult for early-stage businesses to make contact throughout the pandemic.



"We have intelligence we would love to give to government, but, particularly when you’re not a CSL, it’s very hard to be seen," she said.

Ms Gallaher said a range of health tech operators had been coming up with innovative solutions in the face of the pandemic, and it would be a positive if governments connected with innovators beyond big business.

"I'd love for the federal government to have some way to creating a space in which the emerging voices in health tech can be visible," she said.

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