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Bring home the (scientific) troops!


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Repatriating young Canadian scientists at the highest levels to establish new competitive technologies in the health sciences is essential to strengthening Canadian scientific and technological research and development. Canada is in the unique position to be a global leader in this field, and has already trained the next generation of thought-leaders who will carry medical science through the 21st century. It is important we bring them home. Investing in infrastructure to propel Canadian medical science to the forefront of research innovation will support our future economic growth and prosperity, and improve the health and well-being of all Canadians.

While the argument for the government to prioritize an industry where the number of clinical advances, drug developments and cures is proportional to total research investment is not a difficult case to make, it is important that we make it. The day-to-day rigours of academic biomedical research are difficult to appreciate, and it is necessary that scientists share their perspective of the knowledge market with politicians and government representatives who make these decisions on our behalf.

In the interest of advocacy the above arguments were sent to the office of the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada (80 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON. K1A 0A2.); to whom I encourage all Canadian citizens to write with their issue.  The letter was forwarded to the Ministers of Health and Industry and received responses from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Director General Shane Williamson of Industry Canada:

Response #1

Dear Dr. Thon:
The office of the Prime Minister has forwarded to me a copy of your correspondence of June 13, 2011, concerning support for Canadian scientific and technological research. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of supporting Canada’s top health researchers as demonstrated in previous budgets.

Budget 2010 provided $45 million over five years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to establish the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program. The program will enable top researchers to develop their leadership potential and position themselves for success as research leaders of tomorrow, ultimately contributing to Canada’s economic, social and research-based growth.
These investments build on those outlined in Budget 2009, which invested in higher learning by providing an additional $87.5 million over three years for Canada Graduate Scholarships, $35 million of which is being directed to the CIHR to fund scholarships.

The total funds are providing an additional 1,000 master’s scholarships and 500 doctoral scholarships.  Budget 2011 introduced additional measures, including $53.5 million over five years for 10 new Canada Excellence Research Chairs, up to $100 million in matching funds for a Brain Research Canada Fund and $10 million for the indirect costs of research. As a result of these investments, Canada has a first-class postdoctoral program, funded at a level to attract the best and brightest from around the world.

Please be assured that our government will continue to support outstanding Canadian research scientists like you.

I appreciate having had this opportunity to respond to your concerns.

Response #2

Dear Dr. Thon:
Thank you for your letter of June 13, 2011, addressed to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, providing your views on support for Canadian scientists. The Prime Minister’s Office forwarded your letter to the Minister of Industry, Christian Paradis, as this issue falls within his portfolio.  Minister Paradis has asked me to respond on his behalf.

I appreciate your thoughtful consideration of the science and technology (S&T) enterprise in Canada. As noted in your letter, science, technology and innovation are critical drivers of economic growth and national well-being. The Government of Canada recognizes that investments in S&T, and research and development (R&D) are key to fostering the innovation, talent, and ideas that enable modern economies to improve their competitiveness and productivity.  Guided by the federal S&T strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, the government’s investments in S&T in recent years continue to strengthen Canada’s position in the world as a leading supporter of research. For 2010-2011, total federal S&T expenditures surpassed $11 billion, including $2.8 billion for R&D expenditures in the higher-education sector.

These investments are a central component of our ongoing efforts to address Canada’s social and economic challenges, and have helped rank Canada ahead of all other countries in the G-7 when it comes to higher-education research spending intensity.

As you indicate in your letter, talented, skilled and creative people bring innovation to life. The government currently supports a suite of research talent programs through the federal granting councils that enable our higher-education institutions to attract and retain top research talent, from graduate students, through emerging researchers, to established, top-level researchers. This suite of programs includes: the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program; the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program, the Canada Research Chairs program; and, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program. Each of these programs has been established to enhance our competitiveness in the knowledge-based economy, position Canada as a global research leader, and train the next generation of highly-skilled workers.

The federal government has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to S&T through its considerable investments. Indeed, funding for S&T was increased significantly in Budget 2011, against a general backdrop of fiscal restraint. Your suggestions will help inform future policy development as we implement the federal S&T Strategy and take further steps to enhance Canada’s standing as a destination of choice for research, innovation and higher learning.

Once again, thank you for sharing your experiences and offering your thoughtful comments. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

We’d love to hear what you think….

Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the Founder and CEO of STRM.BIO. Before STRM.BIO Dr. Thon Founded Platelet BioGenesis where he served as CEO and Chief Scientific Officer. Before Platelet BioGenesis Dr. Thon was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.
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