International collaboration and industrial funding highlight latest round of funding from Genome Canada

Guest Contributor
April 17, 2002

Genome Canada (GC) has announced funding of $155 million for a second round of 34 large-scale projects that it hopes will accelerate Canada’s objective of moving further up the ranks of nations performing genome and genome-related research. The latest competition was marked by dramatically higher levels of industry and international participation as the non-profit organization’s strategy of reaching out to both sectors begins to achieve tangible results.

The GC funding is provided on a matching basis, meaning the total value of the projects is at least $311 million including $60-90 million from industry. The tally could go higher as negotiations on funding commitments continue. GC expects to release its share of funds from the latest round by the end of June, while the matching money is to be secured by the five regional genome centres which are responsible for managing the projects.

The Round Two competition received $1.1 billion in proposals, including $200 million from industry. The national success rate was 28.2%.

The Ontario Genomics Institute received $59 million from GC, the largest amount for any jurisdiction. That funding will support 11 mostly health-related projects valued at $118 million, accounting for about 38% of the overall competition.

In the first competition last year, GC contributed $136 million to 17 projects and five science platforms worth more than $270 million (R$, April 23/01). The total now invested in or committed to genomics research in just one year stands at nearly $600 million.

“These projects have put Canada at the forefront of genomics and proteomics research. They’re exclusively large-scale that can’t be funded by universities, venture capital or provincial government,” says Godbout, adding that the costs of the projects vary widely but average $9 million over three years. “Canada was sixth in the world in 1999 but now we can claim we’re between third and fourth because of our commitment. In some cases we’re leading international consortia.”

Genomics research globally is dominated by the US, followed by the UK, which account for an annual output of more than 25,000 and 7,000 scientific publications respectively. Germany, France and Japan follow with approximately 4,000 each, while Canada stands at 2,400 a year. Publications stemming from the latest round of projects is expected to vault Canada past at least two nations, and the target is to be third within three years.


In the latest competition, health-related research continues to be the largest single project category, but there was considerable success in other sectors. The most notable in dollar terms was agricultural genomics, which captured the largest award of the competition ($26.9 million). The project — Functional Pathogenomics of Mucosal Immunity — is jointly led by Dr Lorne Babiuk and Dr Bob Hancock. GC funding of $13.5 million will be roughly split between Genome Prairie and Genome British Columbia. Genome Prairie is also home to a $17-million project in which a private sector firm is the applicant. MDS Sciex leads the proposal for the development of enabling technologies for genomics and proteomics research. Heading the project is Dr William Davidson, MDS Sciex’s VP of science and technology.

Also significant for its size and international component is Genome Quebec’s project, A Haplotype Map of the Human Genome - Biomedical Tool for Genetic Research in Canada. The project was initiated by Dr Thomas Hudson. GC and its Canadian partners are contributing $15.2 million towards a consortium that has assembled US$150-million in funding and promises to grow even larger. Participating in the project are the Montreal Genome Centre, the UK-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the US-based Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research.


($ millions)
RegionAwards ValueNumber of Awards
Ontario Genomics Institute118.013
British Columbia32.05

Approximately 80% of the Round Two projects have an international component, involving researchers from many nations including the US, UK, Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.

To reach its target of ranking third globally, GC is busily negotiating joint country-to-country research agreements with a variety of European nations as a way to leverage Canadian resources. A pending agreement with Spain, for instance, would see both countries contribute about $10 million each for jointly proposed projects involving collaborations between scientists from both sides. Similar negotiations are ongoing with Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany and should be completed within one year.

It’s an astute strategy, given the ongoing challenges of finding domestic sources for the required matching funding. This is particularly true of provincial governments which are watching budget surpluses vanish due to the economic downturn. In British Columbia, for instance, Genome BC will be seeking matching funds from sources other than the cash-strapped provincial Liberal government of Gordon Campbell.

“The project scientists have been advised not to rely on provincial funding this time,” says Dr Roger Foxall, Genome BC’s executive VP research. “We’ll be matching on the basis of collaboration and international relationships and build on Round One projects for funding sources for Round Two.”

Like most other regional genome centres, matching funds for Round One competitions are still not in place, prompting Genome Canada to front-end load project financing to get the research underway. To date, only Genome Quebec has announced Round One matching funds, and is just weeks away from announcing Round Two funding.

“Quebec is the only region to formally commit, but I’m confident that funding will come into place in the fullness of time,” says Marc LePage, Genome Canada’s executive VP for corporate development. “I do have some trepidation and it will be hard work.”

With the completion of Round Two awards, GC has spent nearly all of its federal funding. Ottawa provided GC with $160 million in its February 2000 Budget (R$, March 17/00), followed by an additional $140 million in year-end money in 2001, for a total of $300 million (March 5/01).

Interest on investments will yield another $50 million, bringing the grand total to $350 million. After the $291 million in funding for the first two competitions is disbursed, GC will have $60 million remaining. GC administration over five years accounts for $22 million, followed by $15 million for international partnering, $15 million for administration and $6 million for special projects discretionary to GC’s board of directors.


But Godbout says Canada’s development of a research base for genomics and proteomics is far from complete, and will require substantial new public investment.

“Phase II will have to be larger than Phase I if we want to be internationally competitive. Public funding will still account for the majority,” says Godbout. “We have met with several people at a high level in government and they are highly supportive of our approach. It’s right in line with the innovation strategy recently introduced by (Industry minister Alan) Rock.”

GC is currently preparing a draft proposal for Phase II funding which will go to its board of directors for consideration on July 4. A final draft is slated for completion by the fall. Current funding is supposed to take GC to 2005, but it’s likely the Phase II proposal will be seeking new funding well before that date.

GC has long argued that the $300 million Ottawa has injected into genomics research must be viewed as an initial investment. Nearly 18 months ago, GC’s LePage estimated that the federal government needed to commit as much as $900 million in order for Canada to remain competitive (R$, December 20/00).

The Phase II proposal will focus mainly on international partnering and on filling research gaps left unfunded during Phase I competitions. GC is also hoping that research projects now underway will have matured to the point where venture capital firms may become involved. The long-term strategy is to generate intellectual property, attracting venture capital and other private sector investment.


In other news, GC is putting the finishing touches on a national program to fund small projects focusing on ethical, environmental, legal and social issues related to genomics research (GELS). The new program will be announced by the end of May and will provide approximately $500,000 to successful national project proposals. The program will be managed by GC at arm’s length from the regional centres. To date, GC has invested $14 million in GELS projects that are being managed by the regional centres.


Genome Canada Projects - Second Competition

ProjectTotal CostProject Leader
Genome Prairie
Development of Enabling Technologies
   for Proteomic and Genomic Research
17.1William Davidson
Enhancing Crop Value Through Genomics7.5Wilf Keller
Functional Pathogenomics of Mucosal Immunity26.9L Babiuk & B Hancock
An Integrated and Distributed Bioinformatics
   Platform for Genome Canada
10.0Christoph Sensen
Genome Quebec
High-throughput Functional Genomics
   Using Modified Nucleic Acid (MoNA) Technologies
5.5Sherif Abou Elela
Regulatory Networks in Gene Expression:
   From the Genome to the Organism
11.0Benoit Coulombe
Integrative Genomics for Women’s Health Program8.1Mario Filion
A Haplotype Map of the Human Genome –
   Biomedical Tool for Genetic Research in Canada
15.2Thomas Hudson
Functional Genomics of Regulation in Forest Trees8.7John MacKay
Genome wide Essential Gene Identification in Candida albicans
   and Applications to Antifungal Drug Discovery
5.7Terry Roemer
High Throughput Mutation Screening of Ion Channel Genes
   in Familial Neurological Disorders
6.0Guy Rouleau
Functional Genomics, Pharmacogenomics and Proteomics
   of the Immune Response in Health and Immune Related Disorders
15.0Rafick-Pierre Sékaly
Genetic Dissection of Complex Traits Using Phenotypic
   and Expression Analysis of Recombinant Congenic Mouse Strains
8.6Emil Skamene
Genomic Approach to Identify Fungal Enzymes
   for Industrial Processes and Environmental Remediation
7.5Adrian Tsang
Genome British Columbia
Bioinformatics of Mammalian Gene Expression6.4S Jones & M Marra
Expression Profiles of Cells and Tissues in C. elegans10.7David Baillie
Democracy, Ethics and Genomics:
   Consultation, Deliberation and Modeling
1.3Michael Burgess
Comparative and Functional Genomics
   of the Human Pathogen Cryptococcus Neoformans
2.2James Kronstad
A Quantitative and Comprehensive Atlas
   of Gene Expression in Mouse Development
11.8M Marra & P Hoodless
Genome Atlantic
Comparative Structural and Functional Spruce Genomics4.3Om P Rajora
The Canadian Potato Genome Project3.0S Regan & B Flinn
Ontario Genomics Institute
Proteomics and Functional Genomics: An Integrated Approach15.0B Andrews & C Arrowsmith
Viral Proteomics10.5J Guohua Pan and D Awrey
Functional Genomics of Arabidopsis1.6John Coleman
Functional Genomics of Type 1 Diabetes10.9Jayne Danska
Genomic Analyses of Soil Microorganisms5.9T Finan & B Golding
Biomolecular Interaction Network Database (BIND)25.0Christopher Hogue
Mapping and Isolation of Genes Influencing
   Severity of Disease in Cystic Fibrosis
6.8Lap-Chee Tsui
Fiber Optic Nucleic Acid Biosensor Based Gene Profiling3.0Alex MacKenzie
Genomics of the Spruce Budworm and its Viral Pathogens4.6Arthur Retnakaran
The Stem Cell Genomics Project11.1Michael Rudnicki
Genetic Determinants of Human Health and Disease11.7Katherine Siminovitch
Bridging the Emerging Genomics Divide2.8Peter Singer
Development & Applications of Functional Genomics Technologies8.2James Woodgett
Source: Genome Canada

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