New VP (Research) chosen

New VP (Research) chosen McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 7, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 10
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > February 7, 2002 > New VP (Research) chosen

New VP (Research) chosen

Louise who?

That was the question on the minds of many McGill professors last week when the announcement was made that McGill's next vice-principal (research) would be Louise Proulx.

Photo Dr. Louise Proulx
PHOTO: Owen Egan

The woman who is about to become one of McGill's most important decision makers won't remain a mystery for long.

Currently the vice-president of Génome Québec, Proulx has held a series of senior positions at different pharmaceutical firms.

She was the vice-president of therapeutic product development at Biochem Pharma from 1996 to 2001. She managed major projects relating to potential new treatments for HIV and cancer.

Before that, she was the vice-president of scientific affairs for Hoechst Marion Roussel Canada. At that company, a subsidiary of a multinational, Proulx lobbied on behalf of her Canadian researchers.

She increased her team's research and development budget by 30% by convincing the head office that her scientists were top notch and that Canada was a good place to do research.

"Companies like that have a lot of options. My job was to convince them to choose Canada."

It's a job she takes pride in having done well. She was able to sell sceptical head office types from other countries on the benefits of supporting R & D in Canada. "Now, I'll try to sell McGill as a place where the best research is done." From what she knows of the University's track record, "I think it will be an easy sell."

Principal Bernard Shapiro chaired the advisory committee that recommended that Proulx be hired for the vice-principal (research) position.

"[Her] research background and her international contacts will help her to manage in an environment defined by the global acceleration of knowledge," he says.

"She also possesses excellent negotiating skills, solid experience in managing complex relations with government funding agencies and the private sector, and an entrepreneurial flair for making things happen."

Proulx has a PhD in physiology from Université Laval and did her post doctoral studies at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She has 117 scientific publications and 114 abstracts to her credit.

In recent years, Proulx has taught students at the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Pharmacy.

In 1996, she was a co-recipient of Canada's prestigious Prix Galien, an award that goes to innovative new drug therapies, for her contributions to the development of Sabril, an anti-epileptic medication.

Oncology professor Gerald Price served on the advisory committee that chose Proulx.

"I was impressed by her enthusiasm and her dynamism. She is a team player and she understands that she will need to work closely with the academic community at all levels -- not just the so-called scientists."

Proulx acknowledges that her understanding of the research environment facing scientists -- particularly in the health sciences sector -- far outstrips her knowledge of what is going on in faculties like arts or law. She will be taking steps to remedy that.

"I want to learn a lot about the faculties that I don't know very well. I want to meet the deans and I want to meet the researchers. I want to find out about the issues that are important to them. I want to know what we can do to help."

After tasting success in the corporate world, why would Proulx take on a university position?

"At the risk of sounding a little pretentious, I wanted to give back to the community. I came to a point in my career where I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do."

The idea of promoting the research programs going on at a major university like McGill appealed to her.

Although the funding situation for university research has brightened in recent years, researchers continue to be under increasing pressure to offer evidence that their efforts will offer some sort of "deliverable," Proulx says.

"People have to understand that the agenda is changing. Just look at where the money is coming from." The sorts of programs that used to be supported by the Medical Research Council are now often financed by Industry Canada, Proulx notes.

That being said, she believes that nothing eclipses talent in the quest for research funds.

"At Genome Canada, the value of the science is still the number one factor [in getting funding]. People think that the most important thing is the potential for commercialization. That is something that is considered. But the soundness of the research, as judged by a scientific peer review, is the most important thing.

"Even Industry Canada, more than anything else, wants Canada to be recognized for the quality of its research. If, on top of that, we can have some spin-off companies [resulting from the research], all the better."

She says fears about university/industry collaborations, sparked by University of Toronto scientist Nancy Olivieri's recent bitter battle with the drug firm Apotex, are overstated. Olivieri's studies, funded by Apotex, pointed to potentially dangerous side effects related to one of the firm's products. The company strongly disagreed with her findings and tried to prevent her from publicizing them.

"The cases where things go wrong are the ones that end up in the newspapers," says Proulx.

In terms of academic researchers being able to publish the results of their studies from such collaborations, Proulx says, "The universities fought for that and they won."

She says most pharmaceutical companies have changed their policies within the last 10 years to recognize universities' rights in this regard.

"I don't respect companies that still operate that way," she says of firms that try to muzzle university partners.

Proulx has some thoughts about what her priorities will be come April when she officially takes over from Vice-Principal (Research) Pierre Bélanger.

"My sense is there are some units that the University would like to see doing more research.

"I don't think those concerns relate to the quality of the research, but there are concerns about the volume of work done by certain units.

"I see my job as doing everything I can to support those [units]. I don't want anyone stopped by bureaucracy. I want to facilitate [researchers'] efforts."

There are questions she wants to raise.

"Can we give some researchers more time for their projects? At McGill, people are expected to do research and to teach. At other universities, this isn't always the case. Is there something we can do about the balance between research and teaching?"

It's a provocative notion and Proulx is well aware of that. "[Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)] Luc Vinet certainly has another view," she laughs. "Interview me again in six months, and I might have something very different to say."

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