U of T Hosts Forum with CIHR President

Jun 12, 2017
Author: 
Liam Mitchell

Acting CIHR President Roderick McInnes (c/o CIHR)Acting CIHR President Roderick McInnes (c/o CIHR) The University of Toronto welcomed the Acting President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Dr. Roderick McInnes, for an open dialogue about the future direction of the funding council. The event was hosted by Professor Richard Hegele, the Faculty of Medicine’s Vice Dean of Research and Innovation, and McInnes was joined by CIHR’s Director General, Adriana Mota. More than 300 researchers participated in the forum, including 180 who participated in the online webcast.

McInnes was named Acting President of CIHR on March 31 to replace Dr. Alain Beaudet, who announced his retirement in late December 2016. McInnes will lead the organization until a permanent president is appointed by the Federal government.

In his opening remarks, McInnes identified three key priorities for the organization: a careful examination of the current review process for CIHR grants, a renewal of the leadership role played by CIHR’s 13 Institutes, and a review of Canada's Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR).

McInnes indicated CIHR will be returning to traditional in-person grant review panels, reiterating concerns he expressed in a May 5 message that the current reformed project grant competition process was “unsustainable.” He is working with the College of Reviewers not only to re-establish the existing review panels, but to broaden and diversify the membership of those panels.

“We want to ensure the panels aren’t just the same old boy and girls clubs,” said McInnes. The College is also working to improve training for panelists to ensure they appropriately adjudicate candidates across the career spectrum. McInnes is also interested in finding ways to improve how collaborative grants are reviewed, which represent upwards of 30 per cent of recent grant applications.

Also under close review is the future of the Foundation Grant Program, which provides longer-term funding, but prevents access to the Project Grant Program for the term of the grant. Registration for the current Foundation Grant competition has been extended to August 8 and McInnes committed to sharing a further update soon. The next round for the Project Grant Competition will begin with registration on August 15, and an application deadline of September 15.

Many at the forum, which was held in U of T Medicine’s MacLeod Auditorium, expressed appreciation for McInnes’ leadership and efforts to make CIHR’s processes more transparent to researchers. Among them were Professor Jim Woodgett, a professor of medical biophysics and Director of Research of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health System. He thanked McInnes for taking on the role as a search for a permanent president is underway.

In response to a question from Woodgett on how researchers can encourage the Federal government to increase funding for health research, McInnes encouraged the audience to write personal letters to the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Health – in addition to their own Members of Parliament – detailing how their research is aiding Canadians and having a global impact, as well as the challenges they’ve encountered from insufficient funding.

“What is going to have impact isn’t a letter written by Jim Woodgett that is signed by a thousand people, but the personal stories of how your research is impacted because of stagnant funding levels, especially as colleagues in other countries are seeing growth,” McInnes said.

McInnes also recognized the important role that Canada’s other funding council provide to health research in Canada. He praised the Social Science and Humanities Research Council for supporting research in areas like health policy, while he noted the support the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada provides to fields like biomedical engineering.

In addition to serving as Acting President of CIHR, McInnes is the Director of the Lady Davis Institute at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and a professor of genetics and biochemistry at McGill University. Until 2009, he was a University Professor at U of T and Head of the Program in Developmental Biology at the Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children. 

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