Canada Building a Strong Tradition of Regenerative Medicine Funding

Canada Building a Strong Tradition of Regenerative Medicine Funding

Article Author: J. Dean Spence

Science has a profound impact on our lives and our economy.  New technologies built on science help us perform our daily tasks better, and the life expectancy of the average individual steadily rises thanks to innovations in medical research.  New industries form around new technology and healthier people are less of a strain on the health care system.  Scientific discovery, however, is dependent as much on funding as it is on good science.  Such investment is important because it has many long-term benefits.

Often, the benefits of scientific research take time to be realized.  Sometimes, it takes many years for today’s scientific innovation to have an impact.  In a 2015 Research2Reality (R2R) interview, McMaster University chemistry professor John Valliant said, “We are using technologies, science and chemistry that were developed in the 1940s and ’50s right now to be able to [for example] manufacture molecular imaging probes in ways that were never possible.  So this is fundamental science that had no immediate application 30, 40, 50 years ago but is now having an impact.”  In the same vein, Michael May, CEO of Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), recently told U of T News that today’s advances in stem cell therapy can be traced back to the discovery of stem cells 65 years ago by U of T scientists James Till and Ernest McCulloch.

In a R2R a video “Why is Public Research Important for Our Future?” Ted Sargent, Professor Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology U of T, argues that applied science is very well received in Canada.   However, there is widespread agreement that under the Harper government Canadian science in general was undermined.  Between 2008 and 2013 not only were science and technology budgets at Canada’s science-based federal departments and agencies cut by nearly $600 million, but 2141 full-time scientific positions were lost. But it was not all bad news under the Conservatives.  In 2008, the Harper government launched the Vanier Canada Graduate scholarship, and in 2010 they launched the Banting Fellowship.  Both awards aim to attract and retain world-class students.  The awards represent a $34.7 million investment in health science, natural sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities research.   In 2014, 4 U of T PhD students won the Vanier scholarship: Miles Montgomery, Cameron Ritchie, Shrey Sindhwania and Lorraine Sugar.   Also, in 2014 the Conservatives established the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), a $1.5 billion federal initiative to fund research groups and programs at Canadian colleges and universities.   Medicine by Design was the first recipient of the award, a 7 year $114 million grant.  The centre will use the funding to establish a regenerative medicine program to develop treatments for such diseases as cancer, diabetes and blindness, by developing new therapies based on the design and manufacture of molecules, cells, tissues and organs that will then be used to treat diseases.   With initiatives like Medicine by Design, Canada is poised to become a world leader in regenerative medicine.     At the time of the funding announcement, Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder said, “Our government is investing in research and innovation to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians.”

It appears, then, that research in the area of regenerative medicine tends to be well supported in Canada, perhaps because it is an area that Canadian scientists excel in–especially scientists in Ontario.   In fact, the Trudeau government seems to be picking up where the Conservatives left off.  Prime Minister Trudeau recognizes that regenerative medicine is the way of the future.   On January 13, he announced plans to give a $20 million grant to the CCRM to establish and operate a new Centre for Advanced Therapeutic Cell Technologies.  GE Healthcare also announced plans to commit $20 million to the new centre.  The Trudeau government is still new.  It will be interesting to see if the Liberals can continue to build upon some of the good work that the Conservatives did.