Health innovation centres & national research platforms highlight CIHR’s Blueprint 2007

Guest Contributor
September 16, 2003

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is erecting another major building block in its long-term strategy of becoming Canada’s main engine of health research and innovation. President Dr Alan Bernstein and other CIHR executives have been consulting with a variety of stakeholders over the summer on a draft version of its Blueprint 2007 Strategic Plan, which pegs the need for a $1-billion annual budget at FY07-08 (see chart)..

The document builds on the strategic plans of CIHR’s 13 Institutes and outlines five broad themes that are posed as questions and answered with a series of broad actions and measures (see box). The Blueprint follows the initial three-year period in CIHR’s short life which established the organization’s structure, mandate and initial research program offerings. It was also a period when CIHR distanced itself from its predecessor — the Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC) –— reaching out to non-medical disciplines and areas of health not typically associated with research.

“CIHR is no longer a granting council. It’s mandated to be a strategic organization (and) this Blueprint provides a broad direction of where CIHR is going,” says Bernstein. “The world has changed in the past two years with events like SARS and it’s been a tremendous learning experience for Canada and continually for CIHR. We issued an RFA (request for applications) in weeks instead of months. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of SARS or the next SARS.”


Bernstein and his colleagues have nearly completed their Canada-wide consultations on the draft strategy and will be modifying the plan before releasing it in final form later this year. There are several new components to the strategy including a series of national networks called the Centres for Health Innovation. Originally unveiled last year as part of the consultation process for the Romanow Report, the Centres will be built around specific themes and incorporate researchers, practitioners, program managers and policy makers. The intent is to bridge the gaps between those communities to improve Canada’s poor track record of moving health and medical discoveries and innovations into the marketplace and health care system.

“These will be centres for knowledge translation and will focus on the changing health care system,” says Bernstein. “There are huge changes occurring and the health care system is not equipped to assess that new science. We need to get everyone around the table and focus on a single issue in an action-oriented way. We have to break down geographic and political boundaries.”

Bernstein notes that the gaps constraining knowledge translation are not unique to Canada. Recent data suggest that 80% of medical knowledge emanating from the first world is not translated, and the record for the developing world is far worse. CIHR’s decision to devote considerable resources toward what’s viewed as a global problem is being noticed internationally.

The Centres are part of CIHR’s commitment to using health research to strengthen the economy. Bernstein says CIHR currently has four programs focused on commercialization including a proof of principle program that’s pegged at $4 million this year.

Another major new component is the decision to establish national research platforms. The platforms will be in the areas of : * strategies and mechanisms to rapidly respond to emerging threats;

  • Canadian Lifelong Health Initiative, a major longitudinal, multi-generational study;
  • national arthritis plan integrating research with education and clinical care;
  • new approach to clinical research;
  • regenerative medicine and nanotechnology applied to health in partnership with the National Research Council, Industry Canada, the provinces and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council;
  • mechanisms for prioritizing and funding large-scale national and international research networks in which Canada can play a leading role; and,
  • incorporation of genetics and genomics into the health system to ensure the growth of genetic health services.

When CIHR was originally approved in principle, the objective at the time was to fund it to a level equalling 1% of total expenditures by the Canadian health care system, an amount now estimated at $120 billion annually. But Bernstein says the 1% guideline is of limited value.

“The better views is, what is the capacity of the research community and knowledge translation community. The other is international bench marking. We’re not there yet,” he asserts. “CIHR has the broadest scope of any health research organization in the world. But the focus is still clearly on funding research that’s excellent to outstanding.”

(For a related story on CIHR, please see page 4).


  1. How will CIHR facilitate the growth and development of an outstanding, responsive and innovative health research community?;
  2. How will CIHR harness health research to ensure that all Canadians enjoy a high standard of health, and access to health care?
  3. How will CIHR develop a balanced research agenda that targets both new understanding and interventions for diseases, as well as innovative approaches to health promotion and disease prevention?
  4. How will CIHR use the knowledge generated through health research to renew the health system and strengthen the Canadian economy?
  5. How will CIHR ensure that the Canadian health research enterprise can anticipate and respond to emerging health challenges and threats, and take advantage of new knowledge flowing from scientific advances?


($ millions)
Strategic Outcomes2003-42004-52005-62006-72007-84-yr total
Outstanding Research4705356006356502,42067%
Outstanding Researchers
   in Innovative Environments
Transforming Research into Action407510512514044513%
Organization Excellence40506070702507%

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