Melbourne’s medical innovators – from baby steps to success

In a year in which words such as epidemiology are on everyone’s lips, Melbourne’s health sector is in the spotlight as never before.

Melbourne’s medical research and health care strengths are globally renowned.

The Parkville precinct hosts leading institutions and teaching hospitals such as the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Doherty Institute and, when news of the COVID-19 virus emerged, many turned to Parkville-based experts for information and expert analysis.

Growing out of this fertile environment are companies such as Navi Medical Technologies, a pioneer of neonatal medical devices. We provided Navi with a small business grant to help develop its ideas.

Navi CEO Alex Newton said such support at a developmental stage was critical, particularly in medical devices.

‘This is a very expensive process to go through and it’s risky. Even with a great team and a great idea there are still technical and market risks that you need to test,’ Alex said.

Alex, his fellow University of Melbourne graduates and a senior neonatologist came together to address a gap in paediatric medical devices.

’There’s a really large unmet medical need for medical devices that are specifically built for critically-ill newborns,’ Alex said.

‘We identified a problem with how patients receive a life saving procedure called a central venous catheter which is a really thin flexible tube that doctors place inside the vein of a patient so they can deliver medications to these premature babies. It’s just a really tricky procedure.

‘We’re building a medical device that measures ECG signals from the heart through the catheter to assist in these procedures by providing real-time feedback. It’s great for the doctors and nurses and for the patient.’

Growing from the early startup stage, medical device teams might comprise doctors, biomedical engineers and also business experts to effectively commercialise their research.

‘There are three key skills you need: commercial, clinical and medical engineering, and that’s what our team brings together,’ Alex said.

‘The kind of small business funding provided by the City of Melbourne can really make a difference in terms of de-risking a company such as Navi to the point where we can then access venture capital funding from institutional investors.’

Victorian government figures indicate that in 2018 the state exported medtech and pharmaceutical products worth more than $2.4 billion.

In terms of jobs, the City of Melbourne’s 2019 data shows 43,000 people were employed in the healthcare and social assistance sector.

‘In collaborations in the Parkville precinct it’s all part of a chain,’ says Alex.

‘There is fantastic research being done at all these institutions including the Doherty and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and a lot of the hospitals are doing fantastic research.

‘What we do really well in Melbourne is foundational research. What we can do better and where there is an opportunity I think is the commercialisation of that – taking that research from the benchtop into the market.’

To find out more, visit Small business grants.