From the desk of Dr. Michael Czubryt, Executive Director Research, St. Boniface Hospital
The Canadian government invests billions of dollars per year in research, particularly in the biomedical and health-related fields, however, on a per-person basis, this represents only about one-tenth of the investment that the United States makes in its own research portfolio. There is clearly room for Canada to do more. In the short term, Canada must double or triple its research investment and aim to close the funding gap over the next decade. While the initial costs would be significant, the long-term outcomes could dramatically build our country’s economic growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the incredible power of biomedical research. Never before have we learned so much, so quickly, about a global health threat. The fast-paced development and roll-out of vaccines – including the rapid deployment of mRNA-based vaccine technology – is unprecedented in our history. While Canada deployed additional research funding to bolster these efforts, this was a reactionary approach targeted at a single health challenge. Broader investment in biomedical research will boost our ability to respond to threats known and unknown.
Universities and hospitals are two of the main sites of federally-funded biomedical research activity in Canada. Research at St. Boniface Hospital represents a unique partnership between the Hospital, the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and spans neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular medicine from cells to patients, and the medicinal benefits of the crops we grow and foods we eat. The adaptable training and skills of researchers also make it possible to shift to new areas, such as COVID-19-related studies.
As the Hospital celebrates 150 years of providing outstanding care to Manitobans, the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation marks 50 years of supporting research through the contributions of thousands of Manitobans. Between the Albrechtsen Research Centre and the Asper Clinical Research Institute, more than 200 academics, researchers, clinicians, scientists and students call the St. Boniface research campus home. The discoveries made here have a global impact, as shown by a recent study from Stanford University noting that ten of our researchers rank within the top 2% of scientists worldwide, in any field. Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers are published annually, and several spin-off companies have arisen from the St. Boniface research cluster.
This local research community is an economic engine. Typically, a significant portion of research dollars supports research personnel and students. They, in turn, pay rent or mortgages, buy cars and groceries, order take-out, cover their utilities and pay taxes, contributing to the local economy. For the researchers at St. Boniface Hospital, each dollar provided by donors attracts an additional five dollars in outside funding.
Unlike resource extraction or processing, research can take place anywhere researchers live and are supported. Canada has centres of research in communities across the county, although a critical mass is required to ensure they thrive.
Biomedical research in particular yields both direct and indirect economic benefits. The generation of new patents – of significant value in their own right – and the products that arise from the commercialization of these discoveries are key examples. In biomedicine, these products include pharmaceuticals, surgical and medical devices, bio-diagnostic test kits and more.
To drive these commercial activities, new companies are created – generating not only additional, significant economic value in their own right, but arguably the most important indirect benefit: the creation of new, high-tech jobs. Investment in research supports the training of students in universities, colleges and technical vocational schools to work in this sector, and a portion of these students will make up the next generation of academics and research directors to continue the cycle. Building this cycle through careful research investment is critical – without it, Canada faces a brain drain as the people we invest in leave for other countries where research funding is more readily available.
The pursuit of scientific discovery through research is one of the most important activities humanity can undertake, showing us the way forward to build a better world for all. Canada is well-positioned to take a global leadership role in this area, and by investing now, we will reap a research dividend that can transform our economy in the future.