The National Research Council is embarking on a re-alignment of its core strengths by reaching out to academia and other players in the federal innovation system (see lead article). NEOMED is making major strides retaining critical pharmaceutical talent in the Montreal region and its actively considering a third site for its potent combination of research expertise and business collaboration
Change is coming to the National Research Council (NRC) with plans to modify the ways in which it generates new knowledge and expertise for business. The 100-year-old agency is recalibrating to enhance its role in the national innovation agenda by placing greater emphasis on exploratory research in emerging fields, stepping up collaboration with higher education institutions and enhancing integration within the federal innovation ecosystem.
A key underpinning of Canadian innovation is continuing to slide with the latest data on gross expenditures on R&D (GERD) showing a 1.7% decline in 2015. Statistics Canada reports that GERD dropped $600 million to $33.9 billion from $34.5 billion in 2014 and its latest survey shows that weak performance was unlikely to change in 2016.
Canada’s support for fundamental research has fallen by a third between 2005 and 2015, but many in the Canadian research community are concerned the federal government doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to take action. The deterioration in federal support — occurring over a period closely corresponding to the decade in which the government of Stephen Harper was in power — witnessed a major swing in funding from fundamental to applied research, with 40% of researchers reporting a similar shift in their focus.
Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio and Richard Sutton may not be household names but in the world of artificial intelligence (AI) these Canadian researchers are superstars at the forefront of a field that is attracting a host of marquee tech titans angling to gain competitive advantage in the rapidly evolving field. Yet many highly accomplished AI researchers have left Canada to seek opportunity elsewhere prompting a remarkable alignment of government, academia and industry to make Canada the go-to destination for AI advancements in an ever-expanding range of industry sectors.
Innovation sectors continue to fail spectacularly at gender equity and diversity
The UK, US and Canada still haven’t managed to break the average 20% threshold for gender equity across STEM academic disciplines. In some cases, the numbers of women are actually declining and certain disciplines that like to boast higher numbers are still well below parity. To address the lack of progress being made by universities, Canada’s Science minister has made accessing research funding dependent on achieving gender equity and diversity and has called on university presidents to address the lack of women in the Canada Research Chairs program.
Canadian funding for the Toronto-based Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) has been renewed, injecting $33 million into the ground breaking open innovation organization that determines the three-dimensional structure of proteins related to human diseases. The fourth phase of the public-private SGC will see an expansion its collaborative network to include disease and patient foundations while partnering with clinicians and research hospitals to validate new targets for drug discovery by testing its chemical probes on patients.
Clean technology and traditional resource industries like oil and gas may seem like strange bedfellows but federal politicians hope closer ties between the sectors will enable Canada to meet two of its biggest challenges: reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and creating jobs. Debbie Lawes reports
Montreal’s NEOMED Institute needs more space to accommodate growing demand for its facilities and services. Discussions are underway with an unnamed third party equity investor to finance the expansion of its Laval facility with a decision expected within weeks. NEOMED’s growth proves it is possible to come up with a business model that can retain top talent in a region when big pharma employers decide to move out.
The share of federal spending on S&T conducted in-house by government departments and agencies declined to its lowest level in 35 years as federal spending intentions for 2017-18 are projected to decline 1.2% to $11.3 billion, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. The drop to 44% of the total is largely attributable to a sharp (6.7%) decline in related scientific activities (RSA) spurred by the absence of StatsCan Census Program survey which was last conducted in 2016 and occurs every five years.
SingularityU Canada Summit for start-ups is happening October 11 & 12 in Toronto. The two-day event is being supported by 11 innovation hubs and will be held at Evergreen Brickworks, a global showcase for green design and urban sustainability fashioned from a collection of deteriorating heritage industrial buildings. Participating innovation hubs include BC Tech – Vancouver, Communitech – Waterloo, District 3 – Montreal, DMZ – Toronto, entrepreneurship@UBC – Vancouver, Innovate Calgary – Calgary, NEXT Canada – Pan-Canadian, MaRS – Toronto, OneEleven – Toronto, Start Up Zone – PEI and Wavefront – Vancouver. FMI: www.singularityucanadasummit.org
A new advocacy group of private and public health innovation organizations is warning that “Canada is on the cusp of forsaking an entire generation of talent” and urging the federal government to implement the multi-year investments called for in a report by the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science, commonly known as the Naylor Report after the panel’s chair, Dr David Naylor. R7 Research Partners released an open letter to prime minister Justin Trudeau on June 21 to “immediately address our acute research funding deficit” by accepting the report’s call for $1.3 billion over four years in new spending on fundamental science. The Naylor report was released in April but the government has yet to respond to the review’s recommendations although there are reports that it could do so as early as this week. The report calls for a $485-million boost to the budgets of the granting councils, stable funding of $300 million annually for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, enhanced support for doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows and research chairs, and support for small capital grants and increase funding for the indirect costs of research. R7 is comprised of HealthCareCAN, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Research Canada, the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, BIOTECanada, Canada’s Medical Technology Companies, and Innovative Medicines Canada.
Waterloo-based eleven-x, a self-described next-generation, carrier-grade network purpose-built for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, is expanding to establish a coast-to-coast network aimed at smart cities and industrial IoT usage. From its base in Waterloo where it established its first Low Power Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN), eleven-x is expanding to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Toronto and Greater Toronto Area — urban regions that account for 60% of Canada’s population. Further expansion is planned for later this year. The network is low cost compared to traditional cellular competitors and has low power consumption with secure, scalable connectivity of up to 48 km — features considered critical to accommodate the growing use of mobile, wireless devices used to automate municipal systems (street lighting, water monitoring, vehicle tracking) and industries that are tapping into IoT to increase productivity and reduce costs. Eleven-x was created in 2014 by former Blackberry technical directors Fraser Gibbs and Ryan Hickey along with high-tech consultant and executive Dan Mathers. It currently has 25 staff and is planning to grow that number significantly in the coming months. The global IoT market is expected to reach US$1.7 trillion by 2020.