Renewed federal government support essential to future growth
Canada is one of the world's top research nations, thanks to Ottawa's commitment to research and leadership role in funding biomedical and health research over the past 5 years, according to an article published today in the prestigious journal EMBO reports.
But to keep up the momentum and continue to grow in innovation and high-quality research, the federal government needs to develop new, ambitious strategies to take full advantage of Canada's expertise and research infrastructure and capacity, according to authors Dr. John Bergeron and Dr. Sean Taylor of McGill University.
Funding for Canadian biomedical and health research grew from Cdn$5.1 billion in 1999 to Cdn$7.5 billion in 2003. The increased support was part of the federal government's plan to keep pace with international competition in countries like the United States and Japan, and increase the capacities of universities to conduct high-quality research.
In a commitment to being one of the top five research nations in the world, the government created innovative new programs in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) and Genome Canada (GC) to support infrastructure, facilities and equipment, large-scale institutional projects, attract thousands of new researchers, and train postdoctoral fellows and students.
The injection of funding has had a measurable impact on economy and knowledge transfer. Since 1999, there has been a 50% increase in licenses and options, a 200% increase in income from licenses, and a 40% increase in the number of new spin-off companies. Canadian scientists are also more present on the world scientific stage, with a 25% increase in the number of scientific articles produced by Canadian researchers.
"The progress has been phenomenal," said Dr. Bergeron, Chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University, Director of the Montreal Proteomics Network (RPMPN), and President of the Human Proteome Organization. "Today the atmosphere among biomedical researchers in Canada is full of the energy and excitement of being on the leading edge and this has also helped to attract and retain the best people."
Biomedical and health research and innovation are fundamental to the health of Canadians for the development of new technologies and treatments. They are also key components of the knowledge-based societies/economies of the 21st century, he said.
"The commitment to large projects has been a tremendous boost and has made Canada a significant player," said Dr. Taylor, Program Manager of the Montreal Proteomics Network. "Many of the projects (such as the RPMPN) funded by GC, CIHR and the CFI have attained international recognition and are participating in global projects and have been able to secure international funding."
"Canadian scientists are world leaders in essentially all aspects of health research, from proteomics, stem cells and model organisms genetics to clinical research, population health and research on the health system itself," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "This excellence is essential if Canadians are to reap the health and economic benefits of the current revolution in health research."
"The CFI has served as an agent of transformation, helping to modernize the research landscape in Canada and serving as the catalyst for major institutional change," said Dr. Eliot Phillipson, President and CEO of the CFI. "This transformation is happening rapidly thanks to the partnership approach and cooperation of all of those involved in the research enterprise. Together, we are giving Canada the tools and facilities required to compete in research on the world stage."
The challenge for the new federal government is to develop and implement a mechanism to continue this commitment so that Canada can grow as a leader of international innovation and high-quality research. This is particularly critical for the approximately 79 large-scale proteomics and genomics projects funded in Canada through a combination of GC, the CFI, the CRC and the CIHR. Funding programs for these projects are set to expire in March 2005.
For many of these projects, the past three years have been devoted to investing in equipment, facilities and people, Dr. Taylor said. Most projects are now fully operational with a high level of productivity and are delivering tremendous results both in terms of publications and patentable intellectual property. Each project has the potential to pay huge dividends to the health and economy of Canada in terms of new insights into diseases and new economic growth. Continued investment in biomedical science is crucial, he said. The new government has an opportunity to put forward an ambitious vision of the future that will benefit all Canadians.