This is a follow up commentary following my last post on the PNG government where it is about to inject nearly USD 3 million into a biomed startup. From the news conference held by the scientific team of this startup, I learnt that the company screened database of existing drugs to identify drugs that have the potential to treat COVID-19. So what this company proposes to do next is run a clinical trial in PNG. I am confused as to what new technology this company has developed that convinced the PNG Government to commit USD 3 million.
The PNG public has not been told whether the company is going to synthesis new drugs based on existing known drugs or will it make new drugs from plants. If they are going to screen plants in nature to identify drugs, this process will take years and millions if not billions of dollars to bring a new drug to market. The other question is will this biomed startup produce drugs by buying patents or produce under license?
The Prime Minister of PNG, Hon. James Marabe has come out and said in the Australian media that there is nothing wrong or illegal about government giving public money to this biomed startup. But what PM Marabe forgot is that the money he talking about is PUBLIC MONEY!! Not his private money to invest for his pleasure. If he invest his own money for investment, sure go ahead, no problem. The PNG public is not interested, but when you are talking about public money, there has to be some accountability and transparency as to how this money will be used and we want to know if the process of funding approval followed procedures and laws on public spending. I would be very interested to know what the Finance and Treasury has to say about this investment into this startup.
Don’t get me wrong. I am for and I fully support and advocate for medical research and innovation in PNG. I am a researcher myself and have been advocating for government funding to support innovation in PNG for a long time, in fact, since this blog was started way back in 2007. If PM Marabe and the PNG government really want to invest in research and innovation and commercial research ideas then I have a few suggestions for the PNG government.
My suggestions are:
- Introduce laws to encourage and protect innovation and research ideas, especially if it leads to commercialization.
- Have policies in place to ensure point number 1.
- Annually fund research and innovation by giving research grants. This can be managed by the Science, Research and Technology Secretariat.
- Fund and improve research infrastructure in universities and research institutions.
- Fund PhD programs at research and universities, targeted at bringing research ideas to market.
- Attract and retain world class professors in universities and research institutions to oversee the research and innovation.
These are some of my suggestions. This adhoc knee jerk unaccountable squandering of public money into schemes that appear to be corrupt devices to steal public money must stop.