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The place where innovation and discovery is the name of the game

Whether making medical discoveries, conducting ground-breaking research in the education realm or innovating new methods, ideas and products in commercial industries, Australia’s Gold Coast has a depth of talent as deep as its crystal blue waters.

Professor Mark von Itzstein, director and principal research leader of the Institute for Glycomics, works in a multimillion dollar lab in the bustling metropolis finding new ways to fight infections and diseases claiming millions of lives around the world.

In 1993, von Itzstein led the team that discovered the world’s first anti-flu drug, Relenza. It was a major breakthrough. Around the globe, influenza claims the lives of 250,000 people each year. The discovery earned von Itzstein a cover on Time magazine and in 2000 he founded Griffith University’s world-leading Institute for Glycomics on the Gold Coast – the only one of its kind in Australia and one of the largest worldwide.

“The institute started off with a handful of researchers, the promise of a new building and a very large vision. Now we have over 220 researchers and the vision of being a world leading translational biomedical research institute is very much alive,” von Itzstein says.

Working with his team of scientists, Von Itzstein has turned his microscope to fighting cancer, diabetes, arthritis, hendra virus, immune disorders, childhood leukaemia, meningococcal disease and melanoma. Most recently, his team developed a vaccine to fight strep A, which affects 18.1 million people worldwide, as well as a vaccine for malaria that could potentially save around a million people each year, most of them children. Both vaccines are undergoing human clinical trials.

The work being done at the Institute for Glycomics is part of a large network of ground breaking research in health and medicine taking place on the Gold Coast. The city most famous for its beautiful beaches has the smarts to go with it, employing over 40,000 highly skilled workers in the health and medical sector. It’s the city’s largest employing sector and investment continues to grow, with over $5 billion recently committed to the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct. The precinct is home to Gold Coast University Hospital, Gold Coast Private Hospital, Griffith University – ranked in the top three per cent of universities globally – and the world-class Menzies Health Institute Queensland comprising 750 biomedical researchers primarily located in the new $150 million Griffith Health Centre building. It’s also the site for the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village, which will transform into a $550 million mixed-use community, including 9 hectares of prime greenfield land set aside for health and knowledge-based commercial investment.

“The Gold Coast is now establishing itself as a biomedical research hub and all of the translational facilities are already in place. Within the next 10 years I have no doubt that the Gold Coast will be seen as a world-leading research precinct,” von Itzstein says.

Others leading the way in cutting edge health research on the Gold Coast include Professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik and Professor Don Staines from Griffith University’s National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases, who recently made a major discovery linking Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with immune system deficiency, as well as Professor Saso Ivanovski of MHIQ who is using 3D bio-printing in dentistry to replace gum and jaw parts.

Alongside health, the Gold Coast education sector is also growing, offering students from both home and abroad an opportunity to study at top universities and other education providers. With QS World University Rankings naming the Gold Coast the best student city by the beach in the world, it’s not surprising it attracts a diverse range of international students from countries including China, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, India, the US, Canada and the UK.

Shannon Willoughby, CEO of Study Gold Coast, says while the lifestyle can be a drawcard for students, the standard of education on offer is top priority. “Everyone knows the Gold Coast as a place for sun, surf and sand but it’s evolving into a mature city now. Students are coming here for a high quality education experience and it’s in the backdrop of one of Australia’s most renowned destinations,” she says.

Griffith University offers more than 200 degrees and has been recognised by QS for its courses in nursing, architecture, art and design, developmental studies, education, law, performing arts, politics and international studies, social policy and administration. It is also home to Australia’s best tourism educator, Griffith Institute for Tourism, which undertakes world-leading research alongside governing bodies and tourism operators. At Bond, Australia’s only private university, students rated it the top university in Australia for overall student experience for the eleventh year in a row in 2016. TAFE Queensland Gold Coast is widely acclaimed for its hospitality courses, while Southern Cross University has developed research strengths in geochemistry, oceanography, environmental science and management, zoology, agriculture and veterinary sciences, crop and pasture production, forestry sciences, nursing and complementary and alternative medicine.

Many companies working across these study areas have found great success on the Gold Coast. Brian Siebert of BJP Laboratories, a leading Australian contract manufacturer of conventional and alternative medicines, started the company eight years ago in a small facility with a handful of staff. In the past five years it has grown from 30 staff to 128 staff working across five buildings. With its state-of-the-art humidity controlled laboratory, BJP manufactures products including tablets, capsules, powders, gels and probiotics for major brands including Blackmores and Swisse along with its own brand, Rochedale. Innovation is top priority for this fast-growing company.

“We’re in the process of installing a bioreactor plant to produce concentrated strains of probiotics and this will be the first one in Australia. We’ll be producing four times the amount we’re importing now,” Siebert says.

An investment attraction program established by the City of Gold Coast is aimed at helping businesses to relocate or expand to the Gold Coast, with support offered by way of financial assistance, itinerary development, site selection, workforce development and more.

New or old, innovation and discovery is the name of the game on the Gold Coast.