■How will the fund work?

To soften the blow of several unpleasant health changes, the Abbott government announced it would invest the proceeds in a fund for medical research. The nasties include a $7 fee for GP visits, blood tests and X-rays, higher fees for prescription drugs, cuts to hospital funding and changes that will mean more people will have to pay the Medicare Levy Surcharge if they do not have private health insurance, and fewer people will qualify for the private health insurance rebate.

These savings and others will be placed in a new Medical Research Future Fund until it reaches a balance of $20 billion, which is expected in 2020. The money will be invested by the Future Fund Board of Guardians. While the capital will not be spent, the earnings on the capital will fund medical research, mainly through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

As well as making unpopular changes more palatable, the diversion of the savings to a medical research fund provides the Coalition with a defence against the charge that they are breaking Tony Abbott's pre-election pledge that there would be no cuts to health.

■ Who will decide what it funds, and the prioritisation of ''blue sky'' research versus projects with commercial potential?

Details are hard to come by. The NHMRC awards funding through competitive processes for research in the nine national health priority areas (arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes, injury, mental health and obesity). The government press release announcing the creation of the fund says it will ''help realise the huge opportunities for research to boost illness prevention and promote early intervention, reducing health costs while improving health outcomes and delivering better quality of life''. Health Minister Peter Dutton told The Australian Financial Review he was keen to support growth in clinical trials. He said he was ''open to discussions'' about funding translational research (which aims to convert findings from basic science into practical applications) as well as research on ''care delivery models in general practice and primary care''. Some public health advocates are concerned the fund may not support broader health research.

■What will this mean for medical research in this country?

There's no doubt the fund represents a significant injection for medical research, but it's worth noting that $20 billion does not go directly to medical research, at least not any time soon. What goes to research is the earnings from the fund, which is a much smaller amount. Next financial year, the planned distributions from the fund will total just $20 million. Annual distributions will rise to $500 million by 2019-20 and around $1 billion by 2022. By this time, distributions from the fund will roughly match the NHMRC's usual level of funding for research, effectively doubling the pool. But the president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes, Brendan Crabb, says the fund would have an impact greater than its dollar value, because it will foster partnerships and funding from other sources.

■Joe Hockey said in his budget speech that the fund would eventually be ''the biggest medical research endowment fund in the world''. Which other countries boast similar schemes - and what kinds of therapies and cures are they credited with?

The Coalition's fund was apparently loosely modelled on The Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the UK. Pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome left the entire share capital of his drug company to trustees to use to support medical research. The trust has an endowment of £13 billion ($23 billion), and it spends about £600 million of its earnings each year on research. It says its funding was key to ensuring data from the Human Genome Project was placed in the public domain. Funding from the trust has also been instrumental in the development of a cognitive behavioural therapy for bulimia nervosa, and the anti-malarial drug Artemisinin.

■ Will Labor, Greens and independents be forced to support the co-payments because of the link to the research fund? Is the fund as much a way of wedging opposition as investing in new cures?

That seems to be the idea. The budget papers make clear the creation of the fund depends upon the health savings getting through Parliament. The $7 fee for GP visits in particular looks unlikely to pass the Senate, with Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party all opposed. The Coalition will try to use the research fund as a battering ram to get its unpopular changes through the upper house.

■ Australia has a poor record of commercialising its research and creating high-value jobs and royalties from global sales. Why will this fund be different?

We have little reason to think the Medical Research Future Fund will help us with that. One research agency that has had some success in commercialising its research is the CSIRO, whose researchers invented Wi-Fi and polymer banknotes among other things. It had its funding cut by $111 million in the budget. The Australian Research Council suffered a $75 million cut. The Co-operative Research Centres program, set up to foster partnerships between publicly-funded researchers, industry and the community, took an $88 million haircut. Former Australian of the Year Sir Gustav Nossal, himself a medical researcher, this week lamented that support for other research was being cut as funding for medical research was boosted. ''This is going to make an us-and-them situation: the medical researchers will be laughing and the enabling scientists in maths, chemistry, physics and so forth will be suffering. This is not good,'' he told the ABC.

If discoveries supported by the fund do become commercially viable, the taxpayer is unlikely to directly receive any proceeds. The intellectual property generated through NHMRC-funded research rests with the research institute or university.