House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research – Remarks by Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada

House of Commons Canada
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House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research

Study on talent, research and innovation

May 19, 2022
Meeting No. 13 SRSR
6:30-9:30 pm ET

Introduction

  • Good evening. I’m joining you from Ottawa on the unceded traditional land of the Anishinaabe Algonquin people.
  • It’s a pleasure to be back again at Committee, along with my colleague Pari Johnston, to discuss this important topic—one that we think about all the time at Genome Canada.
  • We are the national not-for-profit organization investing in genomics talent, research and innovation to develop and deploy solutions to Canada’s major challenges in health, climate action and food security.
  • We work with a pan-Canadian network of six regional Genome Centres to align academic institutions, hospitals, government, and industry in shared, large-scale research projects that are the foundation of life science innovation.

Our talent track record

  • Genome Canada has a 20 year-track record of investing in Canada’s researchers and trainees in genomics and related biosciences.
  • A brief reminder: Genomics describes the science of genetic information—the digital code at the foundation of all life sciences. It is the language of living systems and underscores everything we do from vaccine development to cancer treatments and from agriculture to environmental monitoring.
  • We are very proud of the role we’ve played in laying the foundation for amazing Canadian research, treatments and technologies in life sciences that have been deployed both before and during COVID—and which will continue to support important work in future health innovation, food security and climate action.
  • Indeed, the tools and technologies being developed today will change our world during the next 20 years in the same way that the digital revolution changed our world during the last 20.
  • At the same time, we also need to ensure we are training future innovators, researchers and workers.
  • We need to ensure that we have just as many young people being trained in working with biological code as we have with digital code. It is they who will drive innovation in health care, agriculture and agrifood, and sustainable biomanufacturing.
  • At Genome Canada, we take training seriously.
  • Since 2000, we have supported almost 6,000 trainees through our research programs. Those early trainees have become the backbone of Canada’s genomics ecosystem—our researchers, our technicians and our entrepreneurs.
  • Our research projects are not confined to university labs—we support applied research involving an end-user (industry or otherwise) so that students learn how to translate ideas into impact.
  • We’re proud that our projects have spun out more than 100 start-up companies, many of which were started by or with the trainees working on them.
  • But we need more people trained, or retrained, in this area in order to meet tomorrow’s demand. And they must be equipped to both build and use tomorrow’s tools, analyse data, and action insights to address our biggest challenges.

The 3 I’s of future talent development

  • As I said, we take talent seriously at Genome Canada. We refer to our strategy around talent as the three I’s. I believe there are lessons here that can be applied to strategies around research talent more generally.
  • First, we are increasingly Intentional.
    • We have a proud history of supporting students. Traditionally, we let this flow organically from our research strategy. Today, we are intentional in developing a talent strategy linked to specific outcomes.
    • We are talking directly with industry and other end users to understand needs and opportunities. And we are including specific initiatives for capacity building and training into our research opportunities with such ecosystem partners as adMare.
  • Second, we believe talent must be Interdisciplinary.
    • At Genome Canada we employ a challenge-driven approach to address big issues. All our projects involve interdisciplinary teams of researchers, including social scientists.
    • Genomics involves cutting edge technology, but its effective implementation also requires understanding its economic, environmental, ethical, legal and social implications—how genomics works in society.
    • We fund research and trainees in all these areas and work with ecosystem partners like Mitacs to support opportunities to match research skills with work-integrated learning.
  • Third, we believe talent must be Inclusive.
    • Historically, the research community has not supported a diverse and representative population of trainees. This limits our pool of ideas and narrows the scope of potential innovation.
    • We must diversify the pipeline of talent in Canada and ensure that students from a diverse set of backgrounds are able to contribute to advancing our work.
    • This includes developing new models for engaging with trainees from Indigenous backgrounds. Supporting their leadership will be essential for us to redress the inequities and injustices that have been done to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in Canada, particularly in medicine and genetic research.
    • We are proud to support the Summer Internship Program for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics – SING Canada. Led out of the University of Alberta, it is designed to build Indigenous capacity and genomics literacy among undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral, and community fellows from First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities across Canada.

Conclusion

  • In conclusion, it is clear Canada needs a life sciences skills strategy as part of our research and innovation imperative. We have enormous needs and opportunities as the life science revolution proceeds.
  • We are proud to support foundational training in genomics—the ‘digital code’ of biology—and are keen to work with this Committee and others across Canada to ensure we are equipped for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. There remains so much to do.
  • Thank you.

Quick facts

Media contact

Nicola Katz, Director,
Communications Genome
Canada Cell: 613-297-0267
nkatz@genomecanada.ca

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