Illumina has a market cap of $US53.8 billion ($80 billion) on the Nasdaq and last year generated revenue of $US3.5 billion globally selling its genetic sequencing kits, hardware, software and research support products.
The business has had a team on the ground in Australia since 2008 and over the past fews years has solidified its ties with the local research community. It inked a partnership with the University of Melbourne last year which saw the company move some of its operations to the biomedical precinct at Parkville.
Ms Weightman estimates about a third of Illumina’s global research efforts have pivoted to the coronavirus pandemic in recent months.
This has included the development of a rapid diagnostic test for Sars-COV-2 as well as helping researchers across the world with sequencing projects to gain better insights into what role genetics may play in susceptibility to the virus.
In Australia, Illumina has been lending support to research including the BRACE project, a trial that is looking to collect a large sample of frontline healthcare workers and track how they interact with the virus when given a vaccine designed for tuberculosis.
Ms Weightman said Illumina, which has 75 staff in Australia, was attracted to the country’s output of world-leading research. “We see the Australian market as extremely favourable,” she said.
The local life sciences sector is calling for more research support post-pandemic in recent months, particularly around commercialisation.
Ms Weightman said the country needs to put policy attention towards speeding up commercial “translation”. This means having a stronger national plan for bringing genomic research from the lab into hospitals for patients.
“Do things that work [end up] living in research land forever? How do they make their way across to the healthcare system?” she said.
Ms Weightman said she hoped the COVID-19 pandemic had given Australians greater insight into why research is important. “It opened people up to realising that genomics is a thing, for example, and it can be applied,” she said.
In May the government committed $33 million to genomics research projects focused on understanding paediatric cancers for more personalised treatment processes.
The overall attractiveness of cities such as Sydney and Melbourne to multinational biotechs may be waning, however. On Friday, innovation data firm Startup Genome revealed Sydney had dropped four places in the rankings of the world’s best startup cities, coming in at 27th place.
Melbourne was praised for its life sciences talent and came in 36th place, however, it was eclipsed by cities such as Seattle and Silicon Valley, which still lead the pack for turning research into commericialised treatments.
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.