The changing landscape of biomedical research in Canada

Andrew Watson

Hi everyone,

The biomedical research landscape is ever-changing and it feels like it is becoming more complex. I believe that 2017 is going to be a pivotal year for biomedical researchers and the agencies that fund biomedical research. And while this will create challenges for us, I also wonder about the opportunities this ever changing landscape provides to MSc and PhD graduates.

One such change that is expected to take place this year, is the hiring of a Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Canada. Many countries and governments have this role, which helps inform government and assists them with establishing programmatic and national research priorities.

Canada has had chief scientific advisors in the past and I personally believe that the re-introduction of this position by the current government is a very positive step. What does a Chief Scientific Advisor do? Well the easiest way to inform you about that is to have you listen to a prominent Chief Scientific Advisor discussing “Science Advice in a Troubled World”.

Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand is currently chairing our “CIHR International Peer Review Expert Panel”. They are looking into current and future best practises for peer review of CIHR grant proposals. He has suggested that we need to create an expert that lies between the scientist and the government. He calls this type of individual an 'information broker'—someone who understands science and all of its technical details and current status but who has an arm’s length status from actually performing the science and thus has an unbiased position regarding scientific disciplinary priorities and urgency for new discoveries.

I believe that Dr. Gluckman has a point.

Friendly advice regarding biomedical research priorities, directions, and funding levels comes from many sources in Canada including key biomedical science advocacy groups:

  • The U15 Canadian Universities;

  • The Colleges and Institutions of Canada;

  • Medical Devices Canada;

  • Research Canada;

  • Health Charities Coalition of Canada;

  • Research and Policy Universities, Canada;

  • Biotec, Canada;

  • Innovative Medicine, Canada;

  • Health Care Canada; and

  • The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC).

There is absolutely no shortage of advice that is freely and eagerly made available to government regarding biomedical research and its importance from these groups.

The question then is who should the government listen to in order to establish effective policy regarding biomedical research priorities, investments and programs?

While the public and patient groups also have an important perspective to add to the mix, I believe information brokers or science advocacy spokespersons, and certainly science policy developers, could play a critical role. And with solid background expertise in various aspects of biomedical research disciplinary knowledge, first-hand contextual science expertise, strong technical skills and top notch oral and written communication skills – this is a definitely a role for our MSc and PhD graduates to fill.

As you plan out your careers, there will be numerous options before you from front line research positions to special interest group lobbying and policy development – all will contribute to the future of science in Canada and around the world.

Talk to you next month.

Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies