Michael Smith Foundation seeking A-base funding with John Challis at helm, succeeding Aubrey Tingle as president/CEO

Guest Contributor
May 20, 2008

Dr John Challis is taking the helm at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) where his first task will be to oversee ongoing negotiations with the British Columbia government to secure a stable and sustainable funding base for the seven-year-old organization. Discussions are expected to conclude in early- to mid-summer with the expectation that the Foundation will be granted A-base funding and become a budget line item.

On July 1, Challis succeeds inaugural president and CEO, Dr Aubrey Tingle, who is retiring but will maintain his association with the Foundation. Challis says Tingle has done a superb job of establishing highly effective programs and forging provincial and national collaborative relationships –— activities Challis plans to build on.

"Job number one in this transition phase is to solidify the funding base … We hope to see a core budget of support that allows for long-term commitments and the building of more partnerships," says Challis, who stepped down as VP research at the Univ of Toronto last year to return to research and teaching. "I'm confident funding will be in place. We won't fail (in the negotiations). It's not an option. The Foundation's work is too important and the government understands this is a prudent way forward."

The MSFHR is the BC government's main arm for funding medical research in the province. Since being established in 2001, it has received $210 million in two tranches — $100 million over five years at its inception and another $100 million over three years in the 2006 provincial Budget (R$, March 16, 2006). The latter funding will take it through to the end of 2009.

no new announcements until funding secured

The Foundation is not seeking an increase in funding but until a new arrangement is concluded, it is not announcing any deadlines or guidelines for new and renewed competitions and award extensions.

MSFHR board chair Dr Bruce Clayman acknowledges that the delays will have an impact on researchers currently supported by the Foundation. But he expects the situation will be back to normal later this summer.

"There's an excellent chance of success but no guarantees. We hope to informally conclude this summer so that we can prepare our 2009-10 budget. I expect the announcement will be part of the government's Budget in February 09," says Clayman. "It's been fascinating to watch the evolution of the Foundation (and) this is a major milestone as Aubrey hands off his baby to someone else."

During its first four years, the MSFHR focused primarily on building research personnel capacity in the province. More recently, it has branched out to infrastructure and has forged collaborative arrangements with key BC and other provincial organizations.

A memorandum of understanding was recently signed with Genome BC. The Foundation is also collaborating with the Fonds de la recherché en santé du Québec on joint initiatives such as the Inter-Provincial Directory of Researchers.

"The Foundation has had an extraordinary impact in BC in terms of recruiting and retaining highly qualified personnel and the government is very supportive," says Challis. "Our personnel and infrastructure programs have been reviewed and now we need to look at the effectiveness of these programs and explore opportunities to do new and different things."

Among the new activities being considered by the Foundation's board are graduate student internships, and working with technology transfer and commercialization centres within the Univ of British Columbia and the Centre for Drug Research and Development. The latter was recently awarded additional funding from the federal Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research program (R$, February 25/08).

"There's an appetite for these types of programs or partnerships in BC and across Canada," says Challis, a highly regarded researcher in the areas of physiology, obstetrics and gynecology. "Aubrey Tingle built up a nice set of collaborations which I'd like to further develop and expand."

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