IROs focussing on targeted science and research

Jeremy Wu at WSP

Dr Jeremy Wu at WSP. WSP Research is the primary group in New Zealand undertaking international quality research and development into road materials. At their Lower Hutt Laboratory their Wind Tunnels tests have been used to evaluate everything from buildings and cars to airplanes and spaceships. Image: Louise Thomas.

IRANZ welcomes the reappointment of the Hon. Dr Megan Woods as Minister of Research, Science and Innovation and the appointment of the Hon. Dr Ayesha Verrall as Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation following the 2020 election.

IRANZ Chair, Dr John Bright says that Independent Research Organisations (IROs) are looking forward to continuing to work with the Minister on strategies, policies, and investment portfolio directions which affect IROs. “This will be particularly important with initiatives and changes arising from Te Pae Kahurangi (CRI Review), and a new Research, Science and Innovation Strategy.”

John says the Government recognises that IROs provide important targeted research and expertise in specific economic, environmental, and social areas not adequately covered by CRIs and universities. “IROs are frequently part of ‘the best teams’ required for important research programmes. In addition, with our connections to industry, we play a vital role in what business expenditure on research and development the country does have.”

But he warns that New Zealand’s science system does need some tweaking. “The Endeavour Fund has highlighted valuable research opportunities for New Zealand that are being missed due to insufficient investment being available. A wide, rather than academic, assessment of ‘Research Excellence’, alongside increased funding, will reduce the waste of high impact RSI opportunities.”

“Contestable research is a fundamental part of the New Zealand research, science and technology environment, but over the years this investment has been eroded by new initiatives, such as the Strategic Science Investment Fund and National Science Challenges.

“As the Endeavour Fund is impacted by mapping monies to other schemes, competition for this investment has increased. This year the available funding through the Endeavour Fund has been further reduced by the COVID-19 crisis. The impact on IROs, particularly those that do not receive Strategic Funding, has been severe.

“On the plus side, the new focus on impact as well as research excellence, and the broader strategic direction are all welcomed initiatives for contestable funding.”

In the UK, an AIRTO report The impact of the innovation, research and technology sector in the UK economy, by Oxford Economics, assessed the total impact of the UK innovation, research, and technology sector at between £32Bn and £36Bn, equal to 2.3-2.6% of total UK GVA (gross value added), achieved with just 0.3% of government spending. This takes into account both the innovation, research, and technology sector’s induced and catalytic effects on the economy. AIRTO (the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations) membership is roughly equivalent to the IROs, CRIs, and university science commercialisation groups, in New Zealand.

“On the basis that a similar proportional impact would occur, New Zealand can only gain from increasing its investment in the Endeavour Fund for high-impact and excellent research. New Zealand must do this if it wants to achieve a high-performing economy, world-leading social well-being, protection for the environment, and an efficient 21st century infrastructure,” says John.

IRANZ Executive Officer Dr Rob Whitney says the current Te Pae Kahurangi (CRI Review), and a new Government Research, Science and Innovation Strategy should take into consideration impact across the entire research, science and innovation system, including IROs. We are a vital part of New Zealand’s research, science and innovation (RSI) ecosystem and increase its diversity. We have great connections to industry and communities.

“We will be making submissions to Government on behalf of IROs to make them aware of the role we are playing in the science ecosystem. Strategic Investment in RSI capability and infrastructure should be available where appropriate to all research organisations. IROs have strategic capabilities that are unique in New Zealand, such as the fire testing facilities at BRANZ, the wind tunnel and road-testing capabilities at WSP Research and New Zealand’s only licensed cell therapy manufacturing suite at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.”

“In addition, health IROs, such as the Malaghan Institute and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, are playing a vital role in New Zealand’s fight against COVID-19. Malaghan Institute as a lead player in the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand, MRINZ with clinical trials and public health initiatives and by providing a regular report on the latest therapeutics for MBIE.”

IROs include the oldest (Cawthron) and newest (Te Tira Whakamātaki) research institutes in New Zealand. IROs are each structured in a way that enables New Zealand to benefit from high-impact research across business, the economy, the environment, and the community.

“In terms of economic impact, IRANZ members and our associates employ over 850 staff and have a combined turnover of $160 million p.a., which includes $30 million of research investment from Government and $30 million of stakeholder investment,” says Rob.

Some 25% of the research undertaken at IROs is as subcontracts to CRIs or university programmes, with around 10% of the research led by IROs being contracted to other organisations.

Strategic Science Infrastructures

The Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) supports longer-term programmes of mission-led science and science infrastructure of enduring importance to New Zealand. Many IROs maintain such research and infrastructures, often without government support.

  • WSP Research is the primary group in New Zealand undertaking international quality research and development into road materials. At their Lower Hutt Laboratory their Wind Tunnels tests have been used to evaluate everything from buildings and cars to airplanes and spaceships.

  • BRANZ fire testing laboratory offers a full range of fire resistance and reaction to fire tests for the building, construction, and marine industries.

  • Cawthron’s Aquaculture Park is the national centre of excellence for shellfish aquaculture research, development, and production. This world-class facility is home to seafood companies, education and training programmes, and New Zealand's largest mussel and oyster hatchery operations. The Seafood Safety Research Programme is led by the Cawthron Institute in partnership with CRIs, MPI, and industry.

  • The Bragato Research Institute opened its research winery in February 2020 in Blenheim, enabling them to trial world-first technologies, conduct commercial trials, and undertake research winemaking at a scale and degree of experimental control not possible before in New Zealand.

  • The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research contains New Zealand’s only licensed cell therapy manufacturing suite. This unit is Medsafe approved to manufacture cutting edge cell and gene therapies to support clinical trials. The Institute is also home to a world-class cytometry and imaging facility and biomedical research unit with more than 100 biological disease models to support their immunology and immune therapy research activities.

  • TiDA’s initiatives in Selective Laser Melting (SLM) 3D printing have been key to directly 3D printing metal components in New Zealand, vital to the future of local manufacturing. Their latest robotic Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) developments offer potential for New Zealand to establish a leading role in the expanding global market for systems to 3D print large metal parts.

  • HERA is undertaking world leading research on Industry 4.0 applications to fabrication in terms of real-time quality analysis during welding. It is also in the process of developing a Fabrication 4.0 research and training facility.

  • Lincoln Agritech established a “New Uses for Crossbred Wool” pilot processing facility. This facility is the only one of its kind in New Zealand and transforms course wool into new physical formats, including powders, high surface area particles, and fibres, using wet spinning capability. This facility enables scale-up from lab-scale experiments to quantities that can be sent to customers for product evaluation and is being used by the wool industry as a proof-of-concept plant before investing in manufacturing capability of their own.

“These nationally unique resources only exist because the IROs that maintain them are strong and financially viable. It is important to check that new policy initiatives will not undermine this viability,” says John.

“The Strategic Science Investment Fund (SSIF) programmes are structured around science platforms. A science platform is a combination of people, facilities, information, and knowledge that provide a particular, ongoing science and innovation capability for New Zealand. While Cawthron, LASRA, the Malaghan Institute, and the Medical Research Institute receive SSIF investment, all IRANZ members are keen to be part of contributing to a larger-scale research infrastructure that supports enduring priorities and a high-performing science system. The SSIF platforms should be provider agnostic and focus on best teams’ capabilities.”

Regional Research Institutes

The new Regional Research Institutes (RRIs): Xerra (Alexandra), the Bragato Research Institute (Blenheim), PlantTech (Tauranga), and the New Zealand Institute for Minerals to Materials Research (Greymouth) are all IROs and contribute to the IRANZ community.

A report by NZIER, Impact of the Cawthron Institute: Economic contribution to Nelson and New Zealand, showed that the Cawthron Institute has created a unique business model, adding value to the Tasman/Nelson region and national economies. It represents 25% of the Nelson business service sector’s exports, contributes $14m in added value to the local economy, and indirectly creates an additional 91 jobs. It has national and global reach, and its future successes could further boost New Zealand's GDP by $200 million and create over 500 jobs.

A similar NZIER study commissioned by the Bragato Research Institute has shown that R&D has contributed to 20%-25% growth, worth over $60 million a year, in the wine industry.

National Science Challenges

The eleven National Science Challenges provide an opportunity to align and focus New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues by drawing scientists together from different institutions and across disciplines to achieve a common goal through collaboration.

The Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge is being led by an IRANZ member, BRANZ, with Motu playing a key role. IRANZ members are also involved in several other National Science Challenges, including Cawthron Institute researchers playing an active part in Sustainable Seas, Our Land and Water, Biological Heritage, Science for Technological Innovation, and High Value Nutrition challenges, Lincoln Agritech is involved in the Deep South National Science Challenge, and Land & Water Science is part of the Our Land and Water challenge. WSP Research is leading the Snow, Wind and Ice Loading on infrastructure within the High Impact Weather Theme of the Resilience Challenge.

“If the Government is going to maintain the National Science Challenge instrument beyond the second phase they are currently in the middle of, then Climate Change and Big Data are subjects that could warrant new National Science Challenges. There are IROs well placed to take an active role in these areas,” says John.

Health Research

The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, IROs in the health sector, are dedicated to investigating the causes of important public health problems, including cancer and asthma, in New Zealand and internationally. They have led the way in New Zealand research for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. They use their knowledge to support the prevention and treatment of a number of diseases and provide a base for specialist training in medical research. This research is normally supported by the Health Research Council. John says there is plenty of scope for New Zealand to develop in this area, with research into new drugs or medical appliances that could be developed by New Zealand firms, “This could provide economic and other health benefits and could be supported by the Endeavour Fund if it were to expand.”

Date posted: 2 December 2020

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