The Hunter undoubtedly needs fresh entrepreneurial thinking to lead the region into new opportunities and new ways to attract wealth and create jobs.
The million-dollar question is which sector or sectors should the Hunter pursue to expand its capabilities? The pandemic may have shown us the way.
University of Newcastle Professor Jennifer Martin said the pandemic had shown that Australia had a "glaring strategic weakness in our health system". This was highlighted by drug-supply shortages and the inability to manufacture the more effective Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.
And common medicines such as "some antibiotics, asthma medicines and allergy treatments were not available for long periods".
In some cases, alternative options with "differently named and dosed products had to urgently be sourced from alternate suppliers and countries".
Professor Martin highlighted research that showed Australia imported more than 90 per cent of its medicines.
This made Australia vulnerable to a lack of medicine supplies because it sat precariously "at the end of a very long global supply chain".
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Tensions with China - a big pharmaceutical manufacturer - also show the need for Australia to make more medicine. Particularly when China does not hesitate to inflict economic retribution when it feels slighted.
Professor Martin asserts that access to essential medicine is part of Australia's national security risk.
This, she says, presents a drug manufacturing opportunity for the Hunter.
"The region's health sector has significant opportunities for the Hunter to lead nationally," she said.
The professor said a national cannabis program and drug repurposing for ovarian cancer were examples of areas of medicine to pursue.
The Hunter could also work on drugs in areas where there had been a lack of progression for "a long time". This includes paediatric cancers, glioblastoma, ovarian cancer, pancreas cancer and immunological conditions.
Professor Martin said a Hunter drug manufacturing industry could aim to produce cheaper drugs with faster regulatory approvals.
Drug repurposing, for example, could be done by using "older proven drugs" for various health conditions.
This could lead to better outcomes for patients in shorter time frames.
The federal government needs to start putting a lot more money into the Hunter to help it adapt to the changing world of geopolitics, energy, health and climate change.
It could start by directing a big slice of money from its $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative to help establish a drug manufacturing sector in the Hunter.
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