New Genome Canada chair Elizabeth Douville envisions better integration with the bioeconomy

Mark Mann
July 17, 2019

On June 28, Genome Canada announced the appointment of Elizabeth Douville as chair of its board of directors. Douville, who has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Ottawa, is a managing partner and co-founder of AmorChem II Ventures Inc, the Montreal-based seed fund focused on commercializing university technology development. Previously, Douville was a general partner at the life science venture capital fund  GeneChem.

Genome Canada first tapped Douville in 2011 for her expertise in identifying and articulating the impacts, opportunities and benefits of genome research. At the time, Douville stepped in to review and improve the large-scale applied research grant applications that Genome Canada manages — big-ticket projects with long timeframes and multiple collaborators. This work gave Douville an up-close view of the “nuts and bolts of the organization,” she said in a recent phone call with RE$EARCH MONEY, and she was ultimately invited to advise on Genome Canada’s business model and strategic vision more broadly, which led her to join the board in 2016.

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Since its inception, genome research has focused on achieving rapid, low-cost sequencing. That phase of genomics has been substantially successful, and researchers are now very adept at reading the genetic code. This capacity creates a wide array of opportunities for innovation, laying the groundwork for the next phase of implementation and integration, Douville says: “The sequencing bit is just the tools … you get that done, but what do you do with it? That’s the crux of the matter … Now you've got to tackle the real problems.”

Addressing concrete challenges for health and industry requires a cross-disciplinary approach, says Douville. The next step will be to “layer on top other disciplines and sciences.” In particular, artificial intelligence and big data will play a crucial role in driving results, such as screening for diseases directly in the clinic or improving our understanding of how environmental factors influence genomes.

The commercialization of genome research presents a significant opportunity for the growing bioeconomy, which could be worth $1 trillion globally by 2030, according to projections by the OECD. Beyond health, genome research also has applications for other sectors, such as agriculture and agrifood, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, energy, and mining.

Genome Canada will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. CEO Marc LePage has announced his retirement, and the organization expects to name a successor by the end of 2019. Douville is leading the search for someone who, as she puts it, “understands the power and potential of genomics,” and who can help the organization position itself “to implement the fruits of genomics going forward.”


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