Close this search box.

Genome Canada remarks at the House of Commons Science and Research Committee (February 17)


Ottawa, ON

Dr. Robert Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada

Meeting No. 6 SRSR


  • Good evening. I’m joining you from Ottawa on the unceded traditional land of the Anishinaabe Algonquin people, and remind us all of our responsibility to meaningful action as part of truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada.
  • Thank you for the invitation to participate in this historic study on the state of science in Canada
  • Engagement by Parliamentarians on this subject is crucial – and refreshing – given how important it is for our health, our economy and our environment.
  • I want to salute the leadership of Dr. Kirsty Duncan in the establishment of this committee, and to thank all of you for your commitment.
  • I am very pleased to be here on behalf of Genome Canada, joined by my colleague Pari Johnston.
  • Genome Canada is a national non-profit organization created twenty years ago in the shadow of the Human Genome Project.
  • Canada was not a member of the international consortium behind the Human Genome Project, and a group of Canadian scientists convinced Parliament that Canada risked being left behind in the aftermath of this international moonshot project.
  • They knew that investments in what was then cutting-edge science would be essential for Canada’s future. How right they were.
  • Genomics has since grown from a discovery science based on sequencing a single genome to a wide-ranging platform technology that has an impact across broad sectors of Canadian society.
  • It drives innovation across precision health and agriculture, development of novel therapeutics, and cutting-edge approaches to forestry, energy and natural resources.
  • We’ve built a national genomics ecosystem that includes six regional Genome Centres and works with university researchers, hospitals, government scientists and companies, many in your ridings.
  • In the last twenty years have supported over $4B in applied research and innovation across sectors with more than half of that coming from private industry, provincial governments and other non-federal sources.
  • And we now have strong, world-class genomics researchers, trainees, companies and infrastructure that are leaders on the global stage.
  • We are deeply committed to a strong science system that will benefit Canada.

Canada’s science and innovation ecosystem

  • Science, especially the life sciences, stepped up in a big way during COVID.
  • In April 2020, with the support of the federal government, Genome Canada launched CanCOGeN a national network involving universities, public health labs, hospitals, and private industry to build a national surveillance system to track transmission and variants of concern, and their impact on Canadians.
  • This system has been a cornerstone of our national pandemic response – providing real-time information for public health decision-makers and contributing to a global understanding of this virus.
  • The Canadian genomics community responded quickly. It was a rapid response 20 years in the making, possible because visionary governments had made prior investments in capacity, talent and infrastructure that could be mobilized quickly to respond to this urgent, shared challenge.
  • As we emerge from this pandemic, there are no shortage of other urgent, shared challenges: climate change, food security, anti-microbial resistance, and economic growth.
  • Science can help drive solutions to these challenges. But we need to learn from our COVID experience so that we have a science system that is up to the task.
  • So what have we learned? First, that we have immense strengths:
    • We have a diverse and distributed research system built on strong universities and colleges.
    • Our researchers are world-class and they train thoughtful, ambitious graduates.
    • We have cutting edge research infrastructure and strength in important technology platforms like genomics, AI and quantum.
    • And we have a committed community of research and policy leaders with a diverse suite of programs and organizations to support the ecosystem.
  • But we must also be honest about our challenges:
    • Our system is fragmented and often misaligned, and we suffer from persistent coordination challenges in crucial areas like data sharing and research commercialization.
    • We do not have a culture of policy innovation in the research and science space, which is in need of fresh, new approaches.
    • We suffer from chronic underinvestment in R&D by the private sector.
    • And perhaps most importantly, we do not have well-defined national strategic objectives for science.

The merits of a challenge-driven approach in a modern science and innovation ecosystem

  • Many of the ingredients for success are present, but we cannot tackle the challenges in the science ecosystem in isolation. We need an ecosystem approach.
  • First, we need strong, stable investment in fundamental research and talent development. This is the base upon which everything rests.
  • Second, we need coordinated system-wide approaches that can marshal this research strength into real impact, for instance through mission- or challenge-driven initiatives.
  • Third, we need strategic leadership to focus our efforts and resources. We need to be honest about where Canada can lead, where we must invest, and where we can have the greatest impact.
  • We think a lot about this at Genome Canada.
  • We are seized with the opportunity of our current moment – the beginning of a ‘biorevolution’ where our ability to produce enormous amounts of biological data, understand and analyze it, and then use new bioengineering tools, is fundamentally transforming society.
  • We are committed to harnessing this potential and ensuring our capabilities in science generate positive impact for Canadians.
  • Genome Canada employs a challenge-driven approach that draws from our strong research foundations to generate real impact in health, the environment and the economy.
  • We’ve seen this approach work well in other countries. Coming out of the pandemic, Canada has an opportunity to refresh our approach and reenergize our science and innovation ecosystem.
  • This Committee and government as a whole has an important responsibility.
    • To help set strategic research priorities that will provide coherence and coordination to the community.
    • To advocate for the fundamental research and training that is the foundation.
    • And to support the challenge-driven work that will connect our fundamental research strengths with implementation, innovation and adoption.
  • Thank you for your attention.

Quick facts

Media contact