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Interview with DMTC’s CEO Dr Mark Hodge and Dr Craig Rayner of Certara on ABC’s Victoria Statewide Drive

DMTC’s CEO Dr Mark Hodge and Dr Craig Rayner of Certara joined Matt Tribe on ABC’s Victoria Statewide Drive to discuss where Australia’s industrial capability is at in light of COVID-19

7 May 2020

Host: According to a report prepared for the Defence Department, Australia lacks the facilities and know-how to make its own pandemic vaccines. That, you might expect, is apparent, given the uncertainty surrounding how soon a vaccine can be developed. The worrying aspect of this finding is that this report, which warned we need to boost our vaccine and drug development infrastructure was tabled three years ago. The man who wrote it is Dr. Craig Rayiner, president of integrated drug development [at Certara] and a veteran drug developer, specialising in infectious disease and clinical pharmacology.  Craig, hello.

Craig Rayner: Hi, how are you doing?

Host: Very well. As the author of the report. Can you tell us what the audit found.

Craig Rayner: Yeah, I think firstly, it’s important to put this into context. The first thing is that there’s a trajectory here.  So the first audit was back in 2012 and then there was a repeat audit in 2017. And, I guess what I would summarize is that it’s a little bit like the Paul Kelly song From Little Things Big Things Grow. So, the first time that we worked with DST Group – it was a collaborative effort with the Defence Science and Technology Group, working with a number of key stakeholders there. We evaluated in 2012, the nation’s capability for being able to develop therapeutics and vaccines that may have applicability to medical countermeasures in response to examples like emerging infectious diseases and pandemics. So in 2012 it was quite a nascent industry, quite fractured and independent areas or pockets of capability, and we considered to be you know, to be A-class components, but not very well coordinated.

Host: Have we improved since then, Craig?

Craig Rayner: Yeah, I think we have. This is the thing I was saying, that it’s actually about the trajectory. So I think in 2017 we repeated the audit, and we went into greater detail and met with industry and academics and physician networks around the country. And what we did at that point is that we asked similar questions and we also compared to where were we in 2012 versus 2017. And I think what I can say is that there were some consistent themes between the audits. So, you know, Australia as a small nation had modest capabilities, representative of all the key capabilities in drug and vaccine development, but it was again very disparate. I think that was pretty consistent finding, but what changed between 2012 and 2017 was an increased amount of collaboration and an increased amount of coordination between the states and territories, and aggregation {of capability]. In addition to that there was, from 2017 onwards – and I know you have another speaker on here who will be very well versed to talk about this – was that there was a Medical Countermeasures Incubator initiative that was actually established and led to continue to move that story along.

Host: So, have you witnessed change then in the industry, since that time? I mean, I go back to my original statement of this being tabled three years ago? We talk of this [COVID-19] being an unprecedented pandemic but a report of yours points to this very much being a predictable event that we needed to get ready for?

Craig Rayner: Look it is, but I think this is a global issue. You know, when I was at the WHO meeting on COVID in February – I was called in as one of the experts there – Director General [Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus] Tedros remarked at that time that this is a global issue where nations actually cycle between apathy and panic. So, you know, you have a preparedness mode, which is where you start to invest in the period between pandemics, where you start to make sure that you have the manufacturing capabilities you are identifying to meet the next threat might be, or looking at what small molecules or therapeutics or vaccines you might need to deliver. And that’s happening in the pre-pandemic phase, that’s in the preparedness phase. And drug and vaccine development at any time is very, very complicated – and even in a preparedness phase it’s complex.  But what Tedros basically said is that generally we cycle from apathy, you know we’ve had H5N1, we’ve had H1N1, we’ve had Ebola, we’ve had SARS, we’ve had MERS and now we have COVID-19. So it’s a bit like Groundhog Day so the preparedness phase is something that is ubiquitous around the world, and there’s then an apathy that comes with that. Yet, in the response phase is where everybody then tries to get everything done in a hurry, which is very very difficult to do.

If I was to think of Australia in that context I think Australia is actually stronger in contrast to many nations, and has a really positive trajectory coming from 2012 to 2017. But it can always do more.  I think now there is an unprecedented opportunity for Australia to seize this moment. And, you know, I think like Gandhi said, you know, that “the future depends on what we do now in the present”. And I think that whilst we are in this crisis mode, I think now’s the time for us to be investing in the future. And in the response to the next pandemic that we’re even going to see after COVID. So, I think that we cannot underestimate the amount of effort and investment that’s required – not just from a national perspective, not just from a regional perspective but as a global citizen, when trying to prepare ourselves for Medical Countermeasures preparedness.

Host: Craig, appreciate your time. Thank you. That was Dr. Craig Rayner, president of the integrated drug development and a veteran drug developer, specialising in infectious disease and clinical pharmacology. He is the author of this report, which was tabled three years ago.

Mark Hodge is CEO of DMTC which was established in 2008 under the Australian Government’s Defence Future Capability Technology Centre program, and conducted this review for the Australian Defence Department.

Mark, hello, has enough funding or investment been allocated to setting up medical countermeasures?

Mark Hodge: Well, look, I think let me answer that by saying no amount of funding – no amount of investment – is ever going to be enough if you’re not targeting in the right areas. And I think the national capability audits that were done in 2012 and 2017 are very much part of that picture, showing us where that investment needs to go. And one of the things I would like to point out is that not only do we know Craig quite well, but that one of the people who helped him with that audit was Dr Felicia Pradera – who is a DST employee and who now leads our Medical Countermeasures Program in the DMTC.

I think the key point to make is, you’ve got to understand where you are directing the resources that are needed.

Host: Do we know that now? Do we know where resources are needed now?

Mark Hodge. We have a very strong idea and part of that is really by marshalling as much intelligence, as you can possibly get through – as Craig was discussing – the global networks but also from our perspective from the national perspective, from across government departments. So the program that we operate has very high level senior guidance from across a number of government departments who bring their collective mind to where that investment needs to be directed.

It’s worth repeating something that Craig said, that Medical Countermeasures aren’t just vaccines – they are also therapeutics and diagnostics. There’s a whole range of capabilities that need to be brought to bear, you could have the best vaccine capability on the planet but if you don’t have the diagnostics and therapeutics, and all the additional intelligence around that, you might be developing a vaccine into something you don’t need to target.

Host: Well this medical armoury you talk of, how long will it be before we can become self sufficient? Producing our own medical armory as well as vaccines themselves?

Mark Hodge: Well I think we’re seeing that there are really encouraging signs that that’s already happening in some niche areas, but I think what it does do is a point towards the need to continue the audit process, because the threat environment is changing over time. And so, I don’t think anybody could say that we were ever there – it’s a journey without a final destination – because as I say that the threat environment continues to evolve. And so the reason for continuing to conduct the audits is to reset that that understanding of what that threat environment looks like and to bring in a range of things – like, not just the research and development capability, but what are the manufacturing capabilities and supply chain issues that really probably have been shown up a little bit in this current pandemic as we’ve gone from that global supply chain approach to when borders get shut down, and how you’re actually able to maintain that national self-sufficiency. And how can you quickly bring together the networks that are needed. Craig mentioned A-Class componentry but the audit report [from 2017] also talks about C-class wiring and really what the DMTC program is about is trying to manage and improve the wiring issues. To get the networks really working together.

Host: Well, Mark appreciate your time. Thank you.

Mark Hodge: More than welcome, bye.

Host: That was Mark Hodge, CEO of DMTC which was established in 2008 and conducted this review for the Australian Defence organisation. Funny to think that just a few minutes ago Mike from Kyneton was texting saying, “I’ve enjoyed the week, Matt, thanks to all and thanks also for not going on and on about COVID, I think we’ve all had enough.” Well, sorry Mike that was about vaccines, I apologize. It’s four minutes to six here on ABC Statewide Drive.

This segment was a part of the 3pm broadcast from Victoria Statewide Drive. The full program can be found at: 

This transcript was generated by



Posted by Emily Kibble on May 12th, 2020