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Tag Archives: Canada Budget 2009

Has NRC-IRAP Run Out of 2009 Grant Money?

NRC-IRAP LogoNRC-IRAP, which got $170 million in the 2009 Federal budget (spread over 2 years) for company funding, has been very active lately, including in biotech.

Maybe too active?  I heard rumo(u)rs (plural!) this week that IRAP may be out of funds for this cycle.  Are they?

Drop us a line.

Canada’s Clean Energy Fund Gets Some Details Detailed

The new Canadian federal $1-billion Clean Energy Fund announced in January’s budget will be spent over five years, according to Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt who spoke about the Fund on Tuesday:

  • $650 million will be for carbon capture and storage projects;
  • $200 million will be for smaller renewable and alternative energy demonstration projects; and
  • the remaining $150 million will be for R&D for new types of renewable and clean energy, plus technology to deal with tailings ponds and water use in the oilsands.

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Brain Drain and Ontario Genomics Funding: Globe and Mail Prefers to Hear the Bad News First

On the front page of the Globe and Mail this morning: Top AIDS researcher lured away, urges Harper ‘soul-searching’, citing $148 million in cuts to the Canadian funding agencies.

Buried several links down below the fold in the National section: Ontario to provide major new research funding — in fact, $100 million to retain researchers, which makes up fully two-thirds of what the Harper budget cut.  Something we mentioned here a month ago when it was announced in the budget.

That’s more than a silver lining, it’s a whole different perspective.  Enough with the doom and gloom.  There’s money out there.  Go get it.

Update: at least the Globe has added the Ontario story as a “related” link under the Sékaly story.

Update2: Here is the MRI press release. The funding is directed to genomics research.

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A Familiar Refrain From the UK

This story in Nature about the UK budget may sound familiar to Canadians:

“Britain’s government has unveiled an economic stimulus package designed to harness what it calls a ‘world-class science base’ — at the same time as it cuts funds for undirected basic research.”

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Canadian Science Funding Update — Open Letter From Canadian Scientists Generates Equal, Opposite Open Letter from Gary Goodyear

Canadian scientists, dismayed by cuts of $113 million to the three primary granting agencies in this year’s federal budget, sent an open letter of protest to PM Harper last week that collected 2,000 signatures.

The response, from Minister of Industry Tony Clement, was certainly better pitched than the response at budget time from the government’s initial spokes-o-practor, Gary Goodyear.   Mr. Goodyear also responded to the protest letter — penning a letter to Nature — and succeeded in not igniting any additional controversy.

I have three points in reaction to the budget and the protest letter:

  1. The federal government clearly chose an investment in infrastructure and training at the expense of basic research, but is clearly embarrassed to say so in light of peer country decisions.  The U.S. has prominently featured major increases in research funding, and the UK has pledged not to let science be a victim of the economy (though we will see Wednesday if they put their money, or their foot, where PM Brown’s mouth is).
  2. The Ontario government has done significant work to close the gap in research funding and infrastructure matching funds left by the federal budget
  3. We are starting to see local impacts of the funding decisions generate pressure on individual MPs.  For example, the federal minister of public works, Christian Paradis, was “angry” and said he will do everything he can to ensure that the famous Mont Mégantic Observatory, which is in his riding of Mégantic-L’Érable east of Montreal, receives funding to remain open.  The NSERC, which decided to drop the observatory’s funding, has cut a number of projects to cope with a $70-million drop in its budget.

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Trend Update — Electronic Medical Records: View From HIMSS

The 2009 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference was in Chicago this week, and was obviously energized by the stimulus money in the U.S. and the budget allocation in Canada, which have greatly increased the available funding for Electronic Medical Records.

There’s a great overview of trends at HIMSS from Dr. John D. Halamka, chief information officer and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School, at his blog: Life as a Healthcare CIO.

His headlines: Stimulus; Economy; Software as a Service; Security; Open Source; PHR; Appliances for HIE; Home Healthcare Care/Telemedicine; Performance Measurement and Outcomes; and Decision Support. 

Read the whole thing.  Read our other electronic medical records posts.

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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Super Provincial Genomics Funding!!

You may remember Genome Canada’s reaction to the 2009 Canadian Federal budget.  Here’s one bit from ScienceInsider at the time:

Researchers funded by Genome Canada … are reacting with shock to news that the Canadian government is withdrawing funding from the 9-year-old organization.

Not true! Cried the Canadian government.

Well, this week Genome Canada’s Board decided  (unanimously) to withdraw funding from the International Regulome Consortium project.  Here’s the reaction from IRC:

Michael Rudnicki, the senior scientist and chair of the International Regulome Consortium, said he is devastated by the news.  He said Martin Godbout, president and CEO of Genome Canada, phoned him this week to say that the agency had to terminate its support because of the budget.

Not true!  Cried Genome Canada.  Well, there’s some support for that, with Godbout citing “significant scientific and management issues;” but more importantly, the recent Ontario Budget included $100 million in the Ontario Research Fund to support “genomics and gene-related research,” so I don’t think genomics research in Ontario is short the money right now.

In fact, according to Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson’s comments at a BIO2009 preparation meeting last week, that $100 million is targeted to rebut any suggestion of a weakening of support for genomics research in Ontari0.

And, right at the other end of the Ontario-Quebec Corridor, a $5 million donation plus a $6.6 million construction investment, plus recruitment of internationally renowned scientists, has added up to over $80 million in funding attracted from various sources to advance pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine research at the new Centre de pharmacogénomique Beaulieu-Saucier de l’Université de Montréal (Beaulieu-Saucier Centre for Pharmacogenomics at the University of Montréal).

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Canadian Budget Reaction Boils Over

A meeting this week between the Canadian Association of University Teachers and Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of Science and Technology descended into a shouting match over cuts to research funding announced in Canada’s 2009 federal budget.

Interestingly, the Minister focused on a point I made last week — that the Canadian approach lately has centered on commercialization:

Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., said the government has been steadily investing in science and technology since 2006, with a new emphasis on commercialization…

I think commercialization is a worthwhile investment; but funding commercialization at the expense of Canadian research is a major  blunder, for the following reasons:

  1. There is no commercialization without research.  Researchers from Boston or San Francisco or Edinburgh will not suddenly move here to start their companies because of extra NRC-IRAP funding.  If the developments aren’t made here, the companies won’t be formed here either.
  2. Research is an area in which Canada punches above its weight.  Check out our Friday Science Reviews and you will see international headlines and top tier journal articles.  However, a lot of hard reputational work is undone by the kind of international reaction generated by the 2009 budget.
  3. The timing is bad.  The increased research funding provided by the U.S. budget and stimulus makes for a terrible comparison.  Plus, Obama is poised to lift the U.S. federal funding ban on stem cell research tomorrow (Monday); and this is an area where we have benefited from an extra structural advantage that is about to be erased (as observers in the UK have already noted).

So, Mr. Goodyear, by all means focus on commercialization.  We can (and will) quibble about that implementation another time.  But in the meantime, restore the research funding that makes us a world-class producer of scientific innovation.

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Allocating Spending to Support R&D: UK, U.S. and Canadian Approaches

The U.S., Canada and the UK have all acknowledged the central importance of R&D even in these recessionary times.  However, the three national governments have decided to focus their spending on different steps of the R&D equation:

  1. Education: UK Takes the Long View
    British PM Gordon Brown, in a speech this week, identified three priorities: research, education and training, and public discourse.  However, only one of the three, education, was the subject of specific increased targets and spending:  retraining to increase the number of science teachers, a goal to double the number of pupils in state schools taking ‘triple science’, and a new Diploma program.  The U.S. and Canada have increased funding for graduate studies, but the UK effort is focused at an earlier stage, to rebuild the interest and capabilities of domestic graduates. 
  2. Publicly-Funded Research: U.S. Takes the Lead
    The focus of the U.S. R&D spending increases has absolutely been on research.  The increases for the NIH and NSF in the stimulus and the budget will go largely to increasing the volume of publicly-funded research.  PM Brown’s speech also vowed to protect funding for science from competing demands for Government support during the downturn, but did not propose increases over the existing 10-year plan.  Canada’s budget actually cut research funding across the three main granting agencies.
  3. Commercialization: Canada Takes Off 
    Canada’s focus was on commercialization.  The 2009 budget included $200 million allocated to the National Research Council’s IRAP program — $170 million to double the program’s contributions to companies, and $30 million to help companies hire over 1,000 new post-secondary graduates.  It also provided significant additional funding to BDC.  The only comparable spending in the U.S. was the $400 million for ARPA-E, which is allocated to energy programs, and supports research as well as commercialization.  PM Brown’s speech recognized the importance of maintaining the country’s struggling start-ups, and he has reached out to big pharma, but promised no specific action.

What’s still missing:  Stimulating Output

  • Despite calls in the UK, the U.S. and Canada, there have been no major tax policy changes enacted in this round of budgets and bailouts that ease the burden on, or return money to, early-stage technology companies.  Ontario has actually taken some steps in this direction with the Ontario Venture Capital Fund and the Ontario Tax Exemption for Commercialization.
  • Nor have there been many changes that increase the value of outputs: in the bio/pharma area, the UK has probably moved farthest in this direction, with upcoming reforms of the National Institute on Comparative Effectiveness (NICE), while the U.S. has seen decreasing FDA approvals and is allocating new comparative effectiveness funds.  On the other hand, approvals of GE animals, support for personalized medicine and big spending on electronic medical records will provide support to specific industry initiatives.

Stay tuned to our Bailout Page for updates.

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Bright Spot for Canada in NIH Gains?

You may not know this, but Canadian researchers can compete for NIH extramural funds, and they do so quite successfully.  I reviewed the 2008 data from the NIH budget site, which shows that Canadian researchers were awarded $47.4 million in 2008 (out of a total of $212.4 million total awarded outside the U.S.).  Hopefully this amount will increase in 2009-2010 as the stimulus and budget money for the NIH is allocated.  Considering the research funding cut in the Harper budget was $113 million, the NIH funds are a significant contribution to the Canadian landscape.

Some geographic breakdown: Toronto (69 awards, $18.4 million) and Vancouver (37 awards, $8.7 million) are the largest recipients.

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The Edison Awards: An Opportunity for Ontario?

In the context of some discussion about the Canadian federal budget, I had blogged about the idea of “an Ontario-based commercialization award of international scope, like the Gairdner Awards, that would seek out and reward internationally outstanding achievement in entrepreneurship.”

A press release from Nuvo Research Inc.(TSX: NRI), a Canadian drug development company focused on topical and transdermal delivery technologies, pointed me to the Edison Awards.  A quick scan of the product nominees this year makes the Edison Awards seem like an excellent model for what I would hope, through our discussions at the Life Science Coalition, to be achievable in Ontario.

I note the Ontario Premier’s Catalyst Awards, along these lines, but they appear to be geographically limited (OBCA and CBCA companies headquartered in Ontario).  The beauty of the Gairdner program is its international scope and caliber, which could stimulate Ontario activity by reputation and example.

Have you heard of other innovation/commercialization awards?  Is this a good idea for Ontario?  Let us know in the comments…

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Friday Science Review: February 13, 2009

More Info on Canadian Electronic Medical Records Implementation

In our Trends in 2009 series, we noted that Electronic Medical Records are poised to make significant inroads this year in Canada and the U.S. Yesterday, Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister of Health, confirmed that:

Funding of $500 million announced today is in addition to $400 million in support provided to Canada Health Infoway in Budget 2007. This brings the Government of Canada’s total commitment to this initiative to $2.1 billion.

Canada Health Infoway in turn announced today the availability of a new certification service that will enable

Health information technology vendors entering
the Canadian consumer health solution market [to] apply for
pre-implementation certification for their consumer health platforms.

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Wednesday Brain Dump: February 11, 2009

Deep Appreciation:for Phillip Terrence Ragon, founder and sole proprietor of database-software provider InterSystems who donated $100 million to establish a research institute that focuses on expediting the development of an AIDS vaccine, and to Pfizer Canada which contributed a further $2 million to British Columbia’s Center for Drug Research and Development (CDRD); and The State of Georgia is contemplating a $180 million bioscience research park.

Social Agitation: French scientists decided their street protests were their best approach to halting the government’s science and higher education reforms and rejected mediation.

Better Cogitation:Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) shows neuroprotective effects in animal models of Alzheimers’, but it won’t stop cries of ‘brain drain’ following Canada’s 2009 Budget.

Free Publication: ScienceInsider reports that Rep. Conyers’ (D-MI) bill that would eliminate free full-text publication of NIH-funded research is back on the table this session.

Self Regulation:More Pharma companies are implementing voluntary disclosure of physician payments (under threat of legislation); and some researchers are taking steps to prevent disclosures of potentially harmful research (under threat of annihilation).

Reconsideration: Researchers at Emory decided that flu pandemic deaths in 1918 may have been primarily from bacterial superinfections rather than the virus itself; Icahn decided to nominate another slate of Biogen-Idec directors; Everybody decided to take another look at their luciferase screening assay controls; and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) decided to take another look at payment for PSA testing for prostate cancer detection.

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Could Have Been Worse

Trends in 2009: Electronic Medical Records

EMR got a boost in Canada’s budget, and is getting traction in the U.S. as well.  In Canada, EMR initiatives are likely to be implemented by the Provincial health plans directly, with back-end services from a variety of vendors.  In the U.S., the ultimate structure is less clear.  Google has tried to get ahead of the trend (as has Microsoft), and the WSJ Health Blog had an interesting post last week:

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Canada’s Budget: An Innovation Shortfall

A good piece by David Crane in the Toronto Star today that touches on the BIOTECanada and Genome Canada issues, as well as a broader indictment:

There are some initiatives in the budget that will help. But overall it falls far short of what is required for an innovative economy, one that will deliver the jobs, prosperity and productivity we will need in the highly competitive global economy that lies ahead.

There’s also a comment on Crane’s piece from Mary Serniak suggesting an “idea competition” parallel to the international arts competition that was in the budget.  This is along the lines of a program we’ve been talking about at the Life Science Coalition: an Ontario-based commercialization award of international scope, like the Gairdner Awards, that would seek out and reward internationally outstanding achievement in entrepreneurship.

Update: Another couple of good budget reaction pieces are up at the MaRS Blog here and here.

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Dare We Compare?

Canada Budget Reax Update

Genome Canada is causing quite a stir this morning, picked up by ScienceInsider this afternoon.  That, plus more budget reaction from a Research Canada press release and a thumbs-down from the CVCA below…

The CBC story on Genome Canada funding has some reaction from Tony Clement:

Minister of Industry Tony Clement, speaking to CBC Newsworld on Thursday morning, disputed that funding had been cut, saying Genome Canada was in the third year of a five-year budget rollout.

“It would not be surprising that they would not get an extra amount in this budget because that was taken care of in the last two budgets,” Clement told CBC News.

So what is the status?

Godbout said that while money from last year’s budget was allocated over the next four years to fund ongoing projects, there no indication that they would receive nothing this year for new initiatives.

He pointed to a project to sequence the genomes of 50 different types of cancer, led by Ontario Institute of Cancer Research scientific director Tom Hudson, as one project that would be $25 million short of funding without further federal support.

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Canada Budget Reax

Canadian Budget

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