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.”
CENTRES A KEY FEATURE
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;
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).