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Funding Amid Co-funding Debate, Genome Canada Launches New Projects

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Genome Canada, the nearly six-year-old nonprofit funding organization, announced awards in September totaling CA$346 million for 33 new large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects.

However, not all of that money comes directly from the Genome Canada coffers — a fact that has rallied Canadian scientists to protest the agency’s requirement that awardees find matching funds. For the latest funded projects, Genome Canada will provide CA$179.3 million of the total amount.

Take the Atlantic Medical Genetics and Genome Initiative’s disease genotyping project in Nova Scotia, which, for example, received total funding of CA$9.2 million. Genome Canada will contribute $3.2 million to this project; the remainder is coming from other sources.

And there’s the rub. Under Genome Canada’s co-funding requirement, the federal government invests half of the money for research projects, while the remaining half is raised from other private and public sources. Despite the adoption of this model by organizations in Sweden and Spain, the requirement for matched funds is not without its critics.

This past June, a group of 40 Canadian researchers wrote a letter to Science in which they argued that the requirement for matching funds favors administrative prowess — specifically, the ability of a PI to attract deep-pocketed industrial partners — over the scientific merit of proposals.

To counter concerns that Genome Canada is forcing arranged marriages between science and commerce, Martin Godbout, president and CEO of the organization, says that “over 80 percent of all matching funds come from public sources, while only 11 percent is from industry.” Public sources include federal and provincial government partners, as well as universities, hospitals, and international funding bodies.

While Godbout holds that leveraging funds from multiple sources is the norm for large-scale, high-cost projects, Canadian scientists show no sign of backing down. Mike Tyers, primary author of the Science letter and an investigator at The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, posted a petition to the federal government on his lab’s website. More than 1,250 people have signed to “endorse the statement that cofunded programs of research support will compromise the integrity of the Canadian scientific enterprise.”

The co-funding debate may continue, but Genome Canada plans to go ahead with its next phase of development. In 2006, Godbout explains, the organization “will invest in avian flu, bovine genome sequencing, bio-defense, specific environmental projects, and writing white papers,” some of which will be done in collaboration with other countries.

— Jen Crebs

 

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