Streamlined priorities and clearer guidelines on the way for national research mission
The Medical Research Future Fund’s A$125 million mental health research “mission” is to get a streamlined set of priorities.
As the MRFF’s Million Minds mission reaches the halfway point of its 10-year duration, a new draft roadmap is being considered by the Department of Health and Aged Care. This would replace the existing five priority areas.
A 2022 report prepared for the MRFF by the University of Technology Sydney found that researchers wanted clearer guidelines on the types of project the mission would fund in the future, and more information about how its priorities were set.
The UTS report, which was completed in June and released in October, was followed by a public consultation on the changes. The new roadmap was drafted by an expert advisory panel appointed in April 2022.
The UTS report noted that even with funding from the MRFF and the National Health and Medical Research Council, along with state and private funding, mental health research in Australia “is underfunded compared to other medical research areas and is not fully proportional to the burden of disease”.
The mission’s current priorities are: the origins of mental illness; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health; children and youth; critical and emerging priorities; and research capacity and resources.
The proposed new priorities are: better understanding of the contributing factors of mental illness; ensuring population wellbeing in the face of critical and emerging challenges; and timely access to evidence-based treatment and prevention. They will be backed by a wider set of research principles.
While the UTS review found that the Million Minds mission funds were going to the existing priority areas, the distribution was uneven: only 11 per cent of funding addressed the origins of mental illness, while two-thirds of spending was going to “critical and emerging priorities”. Existing projects were making “solid progress” on mission principles, the report said.
Because of the early stage of the research, translation into practice was low, although “the majority of projects had explicitly included translation activities in their research design”.
Mission-funded researchers reported that the projects were helping develop their professional capabilities and the overall research capacity of their organisations.
The UTS report also recommended changes to ensure that funded research was more closely aligned to the new roadmap and to MRFF standards.
The fund still has about A$60m left to spend, with A$8m in mental health research grants currently open for applications until 29 March.