Current Landscape

With a population of 4.5 million, BC is Canada’s third largest province, well behind Ontario and Quebec. Despite its small size, BC is a big player in Canada’s health research landscape.

In the late 1990s, BC lagged behind other provinces with its share of federal health research funding on the decline. Today, BC has a very successful health research enterprise thanks to strategic investments by successive provincial governments (Figure One). Starting in 2001, significant direct investments were made in health research through the BC Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF), Genome BC, and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). There were also dozens of smaller investments in other not-for-profit and charitable sector organizations. All together, these investments — more than $950 million since 2001 — helped create a vibrant and globally competitive health research enterprise.

The BCKDF, administered through the BC Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, contributes to the acquisition of infrastructure (space and equipment) that is fundamental to creating an innovative workforce and enabling BC to be a magnet for private sector and foreign investment.

Established to provide matching funds primarily for federal funding programs, including the Canada Foundation for Innovation, BCKDF has invested in nearly 300 health and biotechnology related infrastructure projects ($215 million) that are now maintained by our universities and health authorities[1]. Investments by BCKDF worked synergistically with those of MSFHR, Genome BC and many others to create and advance the work of organizations such as the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), the Brain Research Centre and the Prostate Centre’s Translational Research Initiative for Accelerated Discovery and Development.

Figure1

The provincial government’s investments have taken advantage of federal and private sector investments to make BC a vibrant hub for health research. On a per capita basis, BC is the only large province to experience significant growth in its health research enterprise since 2000 (Figure Two).

Figure2

We are now second only to Quebec based on the share of national funding that we receive from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Genome BC is an excellent example — it leverages Genome Canada funding and other investments to help genomic research move from discovery through translation. As a result, BC’s genomic researchers not only perform on par in research productivity with Quebec and Ontario, but are ranked number one in impact compared to other Canadian provinces[2]. To date, Genome BC has funded 140 health-related projects and technology platforms ($368 million), which have contributed to more than 850 research publications and 133 patent applications and leveraged a further $360 million in health research funding.[3].

The largest provincial investment ($392 million) established and sustains MSFHR. Since its inception, MSFHR’s largest investment has been in excellent researchers ($117 million) who collectively form the engine that drives innovation and creates thousands of knowledge economy jobs. MSFHR researchers have obtained more than $1 billion in additional grants, apprenticed 4,700 trainees, and filed more than 140 patent applications[4]. These researchers are among the best in their field not only because of funding from MSFHR but also because of investments from elsewhere in the system.

Health research is not just about discovering new diagnostics and treatments. It also delivers evidence needed to run a responsive, effective and efficient health system and to advance knowledge in health promotion and disease prevention.

BC has invested in these latter areas over the last decade through activities focused on assessing the impact of health redesign and change initiatives, providing supports to help nurses get involved in research, linking health data to support researchers, and reviewing public health systems renewal in BC, just to name a few. With these investments, BC’s health system and population health researchers have a big impact both locally and globally. As an example, University of British Columbia’s (UBC) health services researchers collectively leverage provincial funding for their work better than any other academic institution across Canada (>7 fold)[5].

Leading edge health practice happens in places where research, practice and education are co-located and patients, providers and policy-makers work in partnership. A feature of the BC context is our unique distributed system for medical education. After nearly 7,000 people packed a hockey arena in Prince George in 2000 to demand better health care in their community, UBC embarked on a journey to create medical education programs on Vancouver Island, in Prince George and in Kelowna. With our distributed medical school, strong allied health professional training programs, and our provincial and regional health system, including the new First Nations Health Authority, BC has created significant capacity for
producing and using health research across the province.

Both direct and indirect investments in health research through BC’s academic institutions and health system have enabled significant growth in number and size of our research centres and institutes[6]. These organizations, like the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria, the Innovation and Development Commons partnership between Northern Health and the University of Northern British Columbia, and the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University, are key structural elements of BC’s health research landscape. They enable connections among researchers with specialized expertise and common interests; optimize work on specific diseases, populations or types of research; provide a means of connecting researchers with the public and communities; and support knowledge translation and commercialization.

Health Research in BC: An Overview provides more information on the health research landscape in BC and the context that led to the development of “Directions for Health Research in BC”.

1. In addition to the $215M invested directly by BCKDF, other provincial investments bring the total to $491M. Total infrastructure investment is $614M when all funding sources (federal, provincial and other) are included. Data provided by the BC Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, May 2014.

2. Genome BC database Apr 2014

3. Ibid

4. MSFHR “Research Impact Report to the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services”, Feb 2014

5. Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute for Health Services and Policy Research Asset Map, http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/map-carte_ihspr-isps/e/ca_prov.html, accessed March 31, 2014

6. BC Clinical Research Infrastructure Network, Asset Map (www.assets.bccrin.ca)

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