The commonalities between Melbourne and Osaka

March 2015

At a glance you might be hesitant to draw similarities between Osaka, Japan and Melbourne, Australia. Population differences aside these sister cities serve as significant biomedical hubs.

Club Melbourne Ambassador and CEO of Biomedical Research Victoria, Associate Professor Jan Tennent has been a key participant in a recent extension of the relationship between the two cities and a return visitor to Osaka over the past year.

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Mr Robert Doyle and a group of industry representatives visited Osaka early in 2014 to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the sister city relationship and open up new opportunities for continued engagement. This meeting stimulated two further trade delegations, one in August 2014 that included Associate Professor Tennent as a guest of the City of Osaka and its Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and another in February this year.

The most recent Victorian Government trade mission coincided with the Medical Japan 2015 exhibition and the World Medical Forum at which Associate Professor Tennent and Mr Cameron Boardman, Executive Director Innovation, Technology and Industry Programs, with the Victorian Government were invited to speak.

“Promoting Victoria’s remarkable biomedical research community, their expertise in clinical trials and MedTech, and the state’s world-class infrastructure to industry and academic leaders in Osaka, was an absolute honour,” said Associate Professor Tennent.

Working closely with senior representatives from the Victorian Government, Associate Professor Tennent said  their “role was to identify opportunities for collaboration in health, medical research and education, strengthen our links with the life science leaders in Osaka, and grow their understanding of Melbourne as a knowledge capital.”

“The visits were overwhelming successful and have created many opportunities for the local sector, including one that will flourish under the MOU to be signed between Biomedical Research Victoria and Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, when a delegation led by their Dean visits Melbourne later this month,” she said. 

Japan is not only a key trading partner; it is also a knowledge partner for Melbourne.

“A big part of our presentation was to highlight the many regional and international conferences hosted in Melbourne,” added Associate Professor Tennent.

“We warmly encouraged Japanese researchers and educators to consider the outstanding conference, collaboration, partnering and education opportunities Melbourne has to offer.”

An overwhelming similarity in Osaka and Melbourne’s history is the support and backing of the biomedical industry by their respective local and state governments, and the collaborative natures of key industry players.

A significant link between the two cities is the fact they both have a synchrotron. The Osaka synchrotron came online in 1997 and is known as SPring-8 (an acronym of Super Photon Ring – 8 GeV). The Australian Synchrotron came online in Melbourne in 2007, both integral to science infrastructure in each city.

Ties between the two cities have been strengthened with initiatives like the 2013 Melbourne Osaka Future Leaders Exchange Program. Open to professionals in biotech, pharma or life sciences, the program consists of a 10 day professional development program.

The close ties between individuals and organisations in these two cities resulted in the establishment of The Systems Biology Institute (SBI) Australia in 2012, a spin off from The Systems Biology Institute Japan.

The Australian node has enabled an expansion from the original Japanese non-profit private research institute, into the Australian landscape. Guided by fellow Club Melbourne Ambassador Professor Nadia Rosenthal, Scientific Head at European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Australia, this resource-sharing in the rapidly emerging Australian and Japanese computational biology community has great potential for both countries in research, training and outreach.

The original SBI Japan was formed in 2000 by Dr Hiroaki Kitano, a pioneer in systems biology with the aim of promoting systems biology research and its application to medicine and global sustainability. Dr Kitano is a regular visitor to Melbourne, each time building new networks amongst the city’s biomedical and bioinformatics community.

The strong relationship between Australia and Japan was clearly evident last year when Melbourne hosted the 15th International Conference on Systems Biology. Brought here by Professor Rosenthal, this was the first time the conference had been hosted in the southern hemisphere. The conference dinner was a highlight as guests enjoyed a personal, and often hilarious, reflection on systems biology by Dr Kitano and Dr Leroy Hood, President and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington.

This global perspective and the willingness we’re seeing from both cities to collaborate, particularly in biomedical research, is building stronger relationships than ever between Osaka and Melbourne, between people and organisations alike.