There’s been a great deal of criticism in recent weeks about the scientific direction taken by the federal government, which many see as promoting industrial research at the expense of basic research. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, doesn’t agree with the critics. “Contrary to what’s been written in the newspapers, research agencies are not investing less and less money in basic research,” he told the Montreal International Relations Council (CORIM) in a speech in early June.
Regardless of the state of the economy, CIHR spend more than half of its $1 billion annual budget on independent research. “It’s simple: If there is no basic research upstream, there is no application and therefore no added value downstream,” Dr. Beaudet said.
“Basic research is what feeds the innovation pipeline. Does that mean we should ignore applied research? I think we should steer clear of such a simplistic dichotomy. This is more like a poorly defined continuum. In fact, it is often the same researchers who develop the applications of their basic research.”
In an interview afterwards with University Affairs, Dr. Beaudet said he remains upbeat about public funding for research for the current year: “We’re always looking for more money, but given today’s economy, it is encouraging to see the government has maintained our budgets.”
In his opinion, Canada is a major player in the world of research and manages to attract and retain the best talent, thanks to specific programs like the Canada Research Chairs, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs, and the Vanier and Banting scholarship programs.
As for the way such programs draw researchers to Canada from other countries, Dr. Beaudet said, “Some refer to a brain drain. Personally, I find it normal. It’s the impact of globalization on research—you win some, and you lose some. If no one was interested in our star scientists, we wouldn’t be playing in the big leagues, would we?”
Breaking down the silos
“In research, money is the engine, but it doesn’t guarantee proper operation and advancement,” Dr. Beaudet told some 200 attendees. “In health research, we have to break down the disciplinary, professional and jurisdictional silos, particularly those between the federal and provincial levels of government,” he said, calling this the “taboo subject!”
“How can we hope that research has an impact on healthcare if the relevant provincial and territorial authorities don’t embrace the research agenda?”
The provinces and territories are seeing their healthcare costs skyrocket, and to them, research is an added expense. But Dr. Beaudet pointed out that “the quality of care is inextricably linked to our ability to conduct quality research.” According to recent studies, morbidity and mortality rates are 15 percent lower in hospitals where advanced research takes place.
Still, the current model for integrating research into healthcare is in need of major improvements. “We must develop a culture of evaluation, so as to better measure what we are already doing, but also the impact and cost-effectiveness of new therapies, practices and technologies,” Dr. Beaudet said. “It’s a question of accountability, and it would guarantee the quality and standardization of care across the country.”
Over the last year, these objectives have been crystallized in Canada’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), which brings together the CIHR, provincial health ministries, charitable organizations, researchers, health practitioners and patients.
Dr. Beaudet said he is very satisfied with the response from his partners in SPOR. “The people at the various health ministries are getting acquainted. We can finally benefit from each of their expertise on projects that will have spinoffs across Canada, instead of just a handful of cities. This type of initiative is essential to overcome the challenges of population aging, mental health problems and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”