Queensland institutes in the hiring line

By Pete Young
Wednesday, 20 March, 2002



Queensland's biotech employment outlook is bright courtesy of a State government committed to pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into bioindustry over 10 years.

The largest job-generating centre is the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, which has hired about 250 staffers since its inception three years ago.

By IMB standards, its hiring levels are relatively flat at the moment, but they promise to pick up again when the $100 million centre that will be its permanent home is completed early in 2003.

Before that happens, IMB will be recruiting new group leaders to add to the 21 already on staff to head programs whose mix is now in the process of being decided.

Each new group leader will in turn be recruiting support and research staff and post-doctoral fellows for their team.

Overall, co-director Prof Peter Andrews anticipates IMB's staff numbers will top 400 by late 2003 or early 2004.

The skill sets being sought will depend on decisions to be made over the next few months about the strategic directions IMB plans to follow.

It will be expanding in all its current areas - genomics and bioinformatics, cellular and developmental biology and structural biology and chemistry. Bioinformatics and chemistry will receive particular attention, however. The Centre for Biomolecular Science and Drug Discovery on Queensland's Gold Coast is also in hiring mode.

Director Mark von Itzstein is looking to more than double his current head count of 22.

"We've just gone out for a couple of new staff and we will be rightsizing up to 50 over the next 18 months," he says.

The centre is interested in a blend of honours graduates through to post-doctoral qualifications and will be filling positions spread equally across chemistry, structural biology and biochemistry.

The intakes will occur in bursts with one already underway, another scheduled for June and a third later in the year, von Itzstein says.

More jobs should be on offer at the latest start-up centre created by government funding, the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, under director Matt Trau, an associate professor with the University of Queensland

There's more elbow room as well at the state's largest medical research centre, the Queensland Institute for Medical Research. In August it opened the 10-storey Comprehensive Cancer Research Centre, holding 15,000 square metres of research laboratories and clinical areas including facilities for recombinant protein and gene therapy development.

Bioinformatics the hot spot

Apart from the IMB, at least another two of Australia's largest research institutes are making a push into the bioinformatics sector, with substantial hiring commitments.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, in Melbourne, says its most pronounced growth in the next 12 months is likely to be in bioinformatics, where about five new staff are expected to be hired this year, increasing the unit's numbers by a quarter.

And the Garvan Institute, in Sydney, announced last year that it would establish the Peter Wills Centre for Bioinformatics, with $750,000 in Federal government funding.

The Garvan's biggest hire in the last year, though, was the top-level appointment of Prof David James to head the institute's diabetes and metabolism research program.

James completed his PhD at the Garvan, then moved to the US, where he made a landmark discovery in the area of insulin action. Before taking up the Garvan post, to which he also brought his 10-member research team, he was at the University of Queensland.

The Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development is also growing rapidly. Prof Alan Trounson's stem cell group, in particular, has just filled 10 positions, a mixture of research fellows and assistants.

Dr Nick Pearce, business development manager of Sydney's Centenary Institute, said the institute had done the bulk of its recruiting for the year.

The Centenary, whose main research focus is in immunology, hired five research assistants for its immunology program and two graduates for its gene therapy program.

Pearce said more than 80 researchers, many of them from overseas, worked at the Centenary.

Additional reporting by Tanya Hollis and Iain Scott

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