Genome Canada guides creation of five regional centres as it plans ahead for next wave of projects

Guest Contributor
October 2, 2000

Genome Canada (GC) has released its long awaited guidelines and criteria for its first group of research projects as it pushes forward with the process of establishing the five regional centres that form its operational core. Once approved and mandated, the centres in British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada will allow GC to fully implement its strategic vision of a national resource for genomics R&D and commercial exploitation.

All five regional centres are working feverishly to develop business and operational plans that represent all stakeholders, including federal and provincial governments, researchers and industry, with each given the flexibility to propose a mix of research projects and S&T platforms conforming to specific reg-ional needs.

"Each Genome Centre should make a distinctive and outstanding contribution to Canada's status as a world leader in genomics research"
- GC Guidelines document

GC officials are also moving rapidly to plan the next phase of its evolution, which will require additional funding from public and private sources. It has already received $160 million from the last federal Budget, and is augmenting that with provincial and private sector commitments for a war chest of approximately $300 million (R$, March 17/00). But it contends that much more is needed if Canada wants to become, and remain, a serious player in the post-genomics era.

"The Genome Canada board and others are working from the premise that we want to get to the point where we say we're exercising leadership, and $300 million is a good start," says Marc Lepage, GC's VP corporate development. "But if genomics is as important as we think it is, it won't be enough to sustain that effort. It puts us in the game, but it's not enough to win as genomics is now in the general business domain."

More immediately, however, the task is to establish the regional centres which will provide a mixture of services using core S&T platforms and large-scale research projects. Letters of intent are due November 17, which will be screened for applicability. Those invited to submit full proposals are due by January 26 with the final selection of projects to be announced by March 30.

Lepage says GC will have a clearer picture by December of which types of projects the genome research community wants to pursue, but he says it's also clear that the next wave of projects behind the initial group will be much larger and relate more to the needs of industry, hence the forecasting of additional funding requirements.

"The wave behind this group is much bigger. You can see the need at the provincial and local levels. People are quite engaged and the provincial governments and the business community are following this closely," he asserts. "There will be information technology, photonics and other research areas and in this business speed wins. In one or two years we'll likely be asking for more funding because five years in science and technology is an eternity. But we'll start making the case right off the bat."


In the regions, preparation of applications for five not-for-profit centres is continuing apace, with all five putting in place the structures required to represent a wide range of stakeholders. GC is accepting only one funding application from each region and is overseeing the process closely.

In Ontario, the pace of preparation has accelerated after a slow start. The existing Ontario Genomics Initiative is working closely with the proposed new entity, and it's likely the boards of both organizations will be consolidated into one. The Ontario regional centre is also working closely with the provincial government's Ontario R&D Challenge Fund, which has been laying the groundwork for a quantum leap in genomics activity with a major program of its own.

"It's been a remarkable turnaround. Ontario has caught up to the rest of the regions," says Lepage. "They're maximizing the opportunity.


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