The WA investment community will turn its attention to healthcare next Thursday, when the inaugural Biotech Lunch takes place in Perth.

Hosted by industry entrepreneur Brian Leedman, the luncheon will provide a forum for brokers and investors to network and build their understanding of the biotech space.

Four listed biotechs are scheduled to present at the lunch, accompanied by a speech from WA Deputy Premier and Minister for Health, Roger Cook.

Speaking with Stockhead, Leedman said the luncheon is a continuation of the popular networking events he ran as chairman of AusBiotech.

And one of the key goals of the event is to bolster the local ecosystem around healthcare and biotech stocks in the resources-centric WA economy.

“Since I started these events, we’ve had a reasonable surge in biotech and healthcare listings come out of the WA market,” Leedman said.

Leedman has had a direct hand in building a number of those companies, including ResApp Health (ASX: RAP) and Neuroscientific Biopharmaceuticals (ASX: NSB) — both of which will be presenting at the conference.

Around 150 guests are expected at the event, representing all the major broking houses in the local market.

Two other companies from the WA market — Orthocell (ASX: OCC) and Dimerix (ASX: DSB) — will round out the presenting group.

And while a number of biotech stocks have got their start out west, Leedman said a key objective of the luncheon is to help build an ecosystem where companies can stay long-term.

He cited two other markets than have executed well on that blueprint. The first is Queensland, where former Premier Peter Beattie initiated a series of government incentives to foster growth. “Sure enough, it became a biotech hub in the Australian market,” Leedman said.

The second was Israel, where Leedman recently visited as part of an Australian delegation — which included Cook — to learn about the major growth catalysts in that region.

“Everyone was left with the impression that there’s a wonderful ecosystem in Israel that’s created a strong pipeline of healthcare and biotech companies coming out of there,” Leedman said.

And he wants to build a similar ecosystem out west, but he’s convinced it will take an increased level of government support.

“That’s why I’ve got the Minister coming because I want to show the talent that’s in the state, and see that this is a sector worth growing,” he said.

To generate real change, Leedman said state governments need to direct their regulatory efforts towards building an ecosystem and then foster viable listed companies, rather than the existing grant-based solutions.

“Personally I think grants are a bit of a waste of time,” he said. “They’re often given to Universities at early-stage biotech projects, and that’s fine but its a hard process to get a grant and they’re not very big.”

“It’s better to have publicly listed companies — they’re the pillars that create ongoing growth in the industry. Successful companies will raise millions, and they’ll spend largely in the state in which they’re based,” he said.

From a regulatory perspective, Leedman argued that state governments should adopt similar measures to the federal government’s R&D rebate scheme, which allows eligible companies to claim back up to 43.5 per cent of their costs related to research and development.

“That’s a wonderful system and it means those companies can spend even more — and they’ll spend it largely in the state in which they’re based,” he says.

In building networks between government and industry, Leedman hopes to drive a gravitational shift in Australian biotech away from the larger east coast markets and towards Perth.

Next Thursday’s biotech luncheon will be one of the first steps along that path.