Alberta raises bar for health research with major changes to AHFMR's award programs

Guest Contributor
October 4, 2006

The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) is enhancing its support for medical research with a series of changes that will make its awards the richest and longest in Canada. The changes were recently approved by the Foundation's board , based in part from recommendations made by an international review panel in 2004 and facilitated by a provincial government commitment of an addition of $500 million to its endowment.

The AHFMR's endowment has already received $350 million in new funds and it anticipates the remaining $150 million will be in placed by FY07-08, if not earlier. That will allow research investments to increase from $52 million in FY05-06 to $65-70 million within three years, depending upon the performance of the endowment's investment portfolio and other factors.

Beginning in 2007, the AHFMR will extend its awards from five-to-seven years and boost the amounts awarded on a fixed basis (see chart). Researchers will also receive annual prizes worth $10,000 to $20,000, making the total awarded to each recipient the highest in Canada.

"The amounts will be fixed but handsome, the best in the country," says AHFMR president and CEO, Dr Kevin Keough. "We're also going to seven-year terms for investigator awards because support over time is a critical factor ... We are now able to sustain a broad research base, allow it to build moderately and introduce new things that are of benefit to the research community. I hope this will bring a national and international dimension."

In addition to individual investigator awards, AHFMR has also announced the creation of the Polaris Award, designed to attract leading researchers - so-called Research Stars - to the province to bolster research capacity. The Polaris Award is offering $1 million annually for five years with the potential for renewal for another five years. Keough says the Foundation is hoping to achieve a 1:1leverage, meaning a successful recruit could receive as much as $20 million over 10 years.

The Foundation has also approved the introduction of team grants for the first time in its 26-year history, offering $1 million to researchers in areas deemed important by the Foundation. Keough says a limited number of inter-disciplinary teams will be created, composed of researchers from Alberta and elsewhere. Partners will be sought, but funding will not be an essential criteria. Partners could assist in the design of the research project or the translation of research into policy and practice.


Junior level$110,000/yr   
Intermediate level$135,000/yr   
Senior level$160,000/yr   

"We expect the teams to be led by outstanding researchers. We want to catalyze and maximize what's available to tackle complex problems. These could be issues relating to vulnerable populations to tackle issues."

While AHFMR implements its new programs, it is working on another slate of changes. They include the introduction of trainee programs, an infrastructure support program and possible the changes to its peer-review processes. It all adds up to an impressive program offering designed to enhance Alberta's reputation for world class health research.

"The International Review Panel encouraged strategic and targetted funding pending additional funds," says Keough, adding that the January/05 announcement of an additional $500 million made changes possible. "These programs are intended to target Alberta strengths to really raise ourselves to a high international level. These are areas that could be turned into Alberta advantages."


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