Three years after its original conception, the Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership (CCSIP) has completed its third and most productive summit, attracting more than 200 high-powered delegates to Montreal to advance discussions on future bilateral research in key technology areas. Although it still lacks a permanent secretariat or dedicated funding, CCSIP issued a call for proposals (CFP) to solicit specific research areas where collaboration will generate the most productive results.
The Montreal summit on October 27 was the first to be held in more than two years, reviving a process that was in danger of falling off the rails earlier this year (R$, February 8/08). Significant progress has been made in all research areas selected for holding the most potential (see chart next page).
"It's clear that there is a maturity in the organization that was not there two years ago. We had a very high level of representation (at the summit) from funding agencies, government and industry," says Dr Denis Thérein, VP research and international relations at McGill Univ and a key organizer behind Canada's participation in CCSIP. "There isn't a recipe book on the shelf on how we can do innovation and international collaboration in a novel way. We have to create a model and for various reasons California emerged as the most logical partner."
The CFP is allocating $2 million — $1 million from the Univ of California (UC) and $1 million from participating Canadian universities — for two purposes: fund researchers who want to develop a concept for a research project and those who are ready to hold a workshop for the purpose of developing a business proposal. In the first year, it's expected that CCSIP will make six awards in each category, worth $50,000 and $100,000 respectively.
The steering committee made it clear that the competition was open to all researchers at participating Canadian universities and all 10 UC campuses. All proposals will be rated based on the quality of proposed research, the potential for genuine, major change and their ability to draw on complementary research strengths.
The summit builds on CCSIP's success in establishing the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium earlier this year, which attracted $90 million from Canadian sources and the potential of more to come (R$, July 11/08). CCSIP was also given a much needed boost when it negotiated to have its programs delivered by International Science and Technology Partnerships Canada (R$, August 15/08). ISTPCanada will manage the CFP process and possibly the resulting bilateral projects if further funding is secured.
"The stem cell initiative was a great success and an example of how you can get people together with just a little bit of money and negotiate an enormous amount of support for an initiative if you identify the right complementary areas," says Dr Steven Beckwith, UC's VP research and graduate studies. "Of course, we would love to repeat that great success. We are clearly hoping that something like that will come out … It seems that one or two of them (research areas) might have that potential."
Paul Krekorian, representative of the speaker of the California State Assembly commented on the various challenges facing any new R&D endeavour in the current climate and challenged the summit participants to seize the moment.
"We live in historically challenging times, There's the financial meltdown, climate change is reaching a crisis point and there's competition from emerging nations," said Krekorian. "But a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. There are tremendous opportunities to develop solutions marketable to the world."
Summit participants drilled down further into each R&D project category with workshops responsible for identifying areas with future potential. For infectious diseases and global health, it was recommended that researchers consider real-time global surveillance and rapid vaccine development for emerging threats. For biofuels and bioproducts, the genetics for maximizing the yield and quality of cellulose was targeted.
Carbon capture and sequestration technologies are relatively mature so the working group recommended focusing on the development of small-scale pilot projects, CO2 compression and pipeline transportation, decarbonizing of fuel before burning and types of geological formations best suited for carbon sequestration.
From the beginning, the concept for CCSIP has revolved around the three ‘D's — discovery, development and delivery. CCS is one of the areas considered to have near-term potential and its workshop included representatives from Chevon Corp and Shell Exploration and Production.
While corporate representation at the summit was outweighed by academic and government representatives, firms both large and small attended in true hopes of gaining competitive advantage by joining the CCSIP process early on.
Other companies in attendance included heavy weights such as Hewlett-Packard, Research in Motion, IBM Canada along with small firms — Ottawa's Spartan Bioscience Inc and Inocybe Technologies of Montreal.
The federal government was represented by officials from Industry Canada, Natural Resources Canada and a large contingent from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The latter included outgoing DFAIT DM Marie-Lucie Morin, Kevin Fitzgibbons, director of innovation, science and technology and the department's two California-based consuls general: Marc LePage (San Diego) and Dr David Fransen (Los Angeles). Also in attendance was Alain Dudoit, the former LA consul general who helped to conceive CCSIP along with former National Science Advisor Dr Arthur Carty.
How far CCSIP is able to evolve is dependent on funding on both sides. Thérein says dedicated funding is "going to come eventually" although he acknowledges that California's status as a state rather than a sovereign nation is a complicating factor. On the California side, the current financial crisis could make the funding quest more difficult.
""Money will not be easy to come by and the normal pressures of society will put the money that we do have into things that people need today," says Beckwith. "This is funding for things people need in the future ... things that people don't even know they need yet because they haven't figured out the ideas yet."