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Genome Canada Nets Nil from '09 Federal Budget

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Canadian government has granted no money in its budget for the coming year to fund Genome Canada, the biomedical and biotechnology-focused entity that supports science in the country, the non-profit organization's President, Martin Godbout, told GenomeWeb Daily News today.

The failure to net new federal funds will bite into some high-profile programs that were expecting to lean on Genome Canada, including the International Barcode of Life project and the International Cancer Genome Consortium. However, currently-funded researchers will not have their grants disappear, Godbout noted.

"Genome Canada is not in the federal budget this year, and there's good reason for it," Godbout explained.

"Genome Canada is not founding any infrastructure or equipment," explained Godbout, who described this year's federal budget as one focused on projects that will feed those objectives. "It is a decision that I respect," he told GWDN. "It's hard everywhere."

Genome Canada was expecting to reap around C$120 million ($98.4 million) from the upcoming budget to fund new research programs, Godbout said, compared to the C$100 million and C$140 million it won in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

The global financial problems that have hobbled the United States have struck Canada hard as well, and the 2009 budget reflects that through the billions it has marked for projects that may stimulate the economy and tax cuts — like a much smaller version of the one the US Congress is considering at the same time.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the budget, which was presented on Tuesday, was crafted to "protect our country from an immediate economic threat while providing the solutions we need to secure our long-term growth and prosperity."

The budget includes C$12 billion in new infrastructure spending over two years, C$7.8 billion to spur home construction, and C$8.3 billion for an effort called the Canadian Skills and Transition Strategy.

The sudden cut of new federal funds does not mean that Genome Canada will fold. "Current programs are not in jeopardy," said Godbout, adding that researchers scheduled to receive funding in 2009 from Genome Canada should not be affected.

In its eight years, Genome Canada has received around $840 million from the Canadian federal government, which it has added to the nearly $1 billion it has gained from private, public, and philanthropic partners.

Canada's Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Newsworld program this morning that the budget had not been cut, but rather Genome Canada was in the third year of a five-year budget program.

"It would not be surprising that they would not get an extra amount in this budget because that was taken care of in the last two budgets," Clement told CBC News.

Cutting funds for Genome Canada also does not pull the plug on all new 'omics opportunities, as The Canada Foundation for Innovation has received $750 million that it can provide for genomics and proteomics equipment and other infrastructure, and researchers may apply there too, according to Godbout.

Whether or not the dearth of new federal funds is a one-year event or will stretch to additional years is dependent on larger, global financial factors, said Godbout. As Genome Canada receives much of its budget from non-government groups and companies, who also are likely to feel the impact of a global recession, Godbout said it was difficult to know if 2010 would be the better or the same.

"So many things have changed in the past three months that it's hard to predict now where it will go in the future," he said.

In the meantime, Genome Canada will prepare for the coming year without the federal funds. "We will readjust our fundraising strategy," he said. And, when Genome Canada prepares to meet with the government next year, he said, "We have to justify why we need funds."

Until then, Genome Canada will plan on issuing a call for more research proposals in 2010.