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Research funding makeover

Province amalgamates four entities to streamline process

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The province is rolling out the next stage of its innovation strategy by amalgamating all of its research-funding entities with the hopes of advancing more coordinated research.

Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald said Research Manitoba was created partly to better co-ordinate resources. It will have a $17-million budget for the 2014-15 funding year, which is roughly the same amount that had previously been spread across four entities.

"We received advice from the innovation community themselves, and there seemed to be an ongoing theme that there is a real desire on the part of researchers and entrepreneurs and innovators to help each others, and to consult and co-operate locally," Oswald said.

Dr. Brian Postl, the current dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Manitoba, has been named chairman of the board of Research Manitoba.

He said the broad funding mandate is a reflection of what’s happening in the greater research world.

"It’s a recognition that research that’s done in independent silos is of less interest to government," Postl said. "The bang for the buck appears to be higher if it can be across disciplines and across professions."

Oswald said there was concern services overlapped.

"They have been frank with me," she said. "There are parts of the innovation community that are a bit fragmented. We need a new strategy to get us all on the same page, rolling in the same direction so that we are really able to compete with our neighbours and on the world stage."

Postl said details of the administration and management of the new fund have yet to be worked out.

Research Manitoba will bring all the provincial research funding programs together under one umbrella, including the Manitoba Health Research Council, the Manitoba Research and Innovation Fund, the Health Research Initiative and the Manitoba Centres of Excellence Fund.

At the outset, the management and board of the Manitoba Health Research Council will manage Research Manitoba. Oswald said the board will be expanded to bring on more people who have expertise in the business, innovation and entrepreneurship community.

In addition to ensuring maximum collaboration in research, the new strategy will have a more conscious consideration for potential commercialization.

"We want to make sure dollars are invested with a view to having brilliant research happening (and) with a view to take those ideas to commercialization," said Oswald.

Long-standing research programs won’t lose funding, but consideration will be given to an eventual end point.

Postl said, "So how do we start imagining research that perhaps begins in the wet lab, but that has applications in critical outcomes, then maybe applications to population health, then finally applications that may include commercialization to develop products that serve the public?"

While Postl said there is particular research expertise in Manitoba in several health areas, the re-organization of the province’s research funding will open up other areas that may have previously left the province a little light.

Digvir Jayas, the University of Manitoba’s vice-president research and international, believes this is a move in the right direction.

"This will support research in all areas," he said. "The research community has said in the past that there are lots of programs to support in early-stage health research but nothing in other areas," such as social sciences, humanities, natural science and engineering.

He said it will mean universities will be able to attract more graduate students to work on new areas of research.

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