NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Genome Canada recently determined that it will not fund the next stage of the International Regulome Consortium, leaving the project C$18 million ($14.4 million) short of its anticipated budget.
The IRC is an international effort aimed at understanding the genetic circuit board that controls stem cell development. Nearly 40 research centers in a dozen countries, including centers in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and Singapore, are participating in the project.
Genome Canada, a not-for-profit organization supported by Canadian federal and provincial governments as well as industry, academic institutions, and other investors, provided C$2.3 million over the past two years to support the pilot phase of IRC.
It was expected to provide an additional C$18 million to the consortium under Genome Canada's International Consortium Initiative. But that funding was only to be awarded pending approval. And when Genome Canada's board met a few weeks ago, they voted against funding the next stage of the five-year project.
IRC Chair and Senior Scientist Michael Rudnicki, a researcher at the Ottawa Health Research Institute and the University of Ottawa, told GenomeWeb Daily News that IRC is in the process of restructuring in light of the decision. He said the project will be more focused on scientific deliverables and may shift from a not-for-profit organizational structure to something more closely resembling a scientific society.
In the immediate future, Rudnicki said the re-organization will likely include laying off six to eight staff members in Canada — a move that's expected to affect both the research and management arms of the project.
In Canada's Globe and Mail this weekend, Rudnicki speculated that the lack of continued IRC funding might be related to the lack of new funding for Genome Canada in this year's federal budget. Genome Canada President and CEO Martin Godbout said that is not the case. "It has nothing to do with the last federal budget in Canada," he told GenomeWeb Daily News.
Godbout said board members unanimously voted against continuing to fund the IRC project, though he emphasized that the project is ongoing and slated to receive significant funding from other national and international funding agencies. He said such decisions are not unusual and said there are a variety of reasons why projects may not get continued funding.
In this case, he noted that the reviewers that Genome Canada used to evaluate the study recommended down-sizing the project based on an assessment of the pilot project and milestone goals.
While he shied away from blaming the federal budget for the lack of continued IRC support from Genome Canada, Rudnicki told GenomeWeb that he believes the agency has faced "some hard challenges" and is doing its best to maintain its strong support for genomics research in Canada. He also acknowledged Genome Canada for its past support of IRC.
Although it did not receive continued funding from Genome Canada, the Canadian arm of the IRC project has secured nearly C$12 million from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, C$3.2 million from Ontario's provincial government, and an undisclosed amount from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
International and industry funding sources have anted up roughly $50 million more to support IRC research in other countries.
Rudnicki said he and his colleagues plan to continue exploring new funding avenues. But he expressed enthusiasm about re-organizing the project based on the funding that's currently available and said the enhanced focus on scientific deliverables will help the IRC project become even stronger down the road.