No 04, Winter 2011
Emerging Issues in GE3LS

News in brief


GE3LS in a "Global Bioeconomy":
Our Q&A with Dr. Pierre Meulien, Genome Canada's New President and CEO Formerly CSO of Genome BC, Dr. Pierre Meulien joined Genome Canada as its new President and CEO in November.

Dr. Meulien recently answered some questions about his perspectives on GE3LS and its relative importance in today's "global bioeconomy", and which emerging genomics-related issues he thinks could impact society.

Q: As you know, Genome Canada is somewhat unique in its requirement to 'integrate' social science research within most funded scientific projects. Why do you think this integration is important? How does this integrated GE3LS research position Canada internationally?

A: Society's acceptance of new technologies has had a checkered history, especially when one considers, for example, the continued resistance to growing genetically modified crops in Europe. The wide range of potential genomics applications is so great (across all life science–based sectors) and the initial investment so high that we need to consider and address the wide range of societal aspects very early on in the conception, development and implementation of new and innovative solutions – so the future bioeconomy can thrive.

This is why we ask our project teams to integrate social science and humanities research in the scientific research programs, so that specific aspects regarding economic, ethical, environmental, legal and social considerations can be co-developed by scientists and social scientists, such that the whole project is more valuable to potential end-users.

In this regard, Canada is considered a world leader and has attracted the attention of many scholars interested in the role of science in society.

Q: You've made the statement that Canada is operating in a "global bioeconomy". What does this mean for GE3LS?

A: So many of humankind's global concerns have their roots in the life sciences: food production and safety, alternative energy sources such as biofuels, environmental concerns and conservation of the planet's biodiversity, and the rampant and seemingly uncontrollable rising costs of healthcare in the developed world. If integrated properly, GE3LS research could be a key success factor in Canada's ability to contribute to the future bioeconomy, estimated by the OECD to reach nearly 3% of global GDP by 2030.

Through these activities, we will be able to smooth the path to successful application and implementation in society. How will Canadians benefit from these new technologies? Will their implementation be economically feasible and accepted by payers, consumer and end-users?

Because of Canada's natural resources – its land mass dedicated to food production (livestock and crops), the importance of its oceans providing a clean environment for both wild fisheries and a thriving aquaculture industry, its extensive forests and its publically funded healthcare system – its role in the global bioeconomy will be disproportionally high. Studying the regulatory, ethical and economic environments into which we will be moving genomics technologies will help us mitigate risks of failure.

Q: What were your first impressions as you moved from a regional centre to the national scene?

The main challenge is no surprise: how can we position the genomics enterprise in Canada – a recognized world leader in several niche areas – as an engine of innovation in the next wave of the bioeconomy, so Canada and Canadians benefit optimally from the government of Canada's investment over the past decade and into the next phase, which is being termed the "Century of Biology".

[See Genome Canada's press release announcing Pierre Meulien as Genome Canada's new President and CEO]

Next GPS series:
Translational Genomics Genome Canada's second Ottawa-based "GPS" series is set to begin in April 2011.

"GPS: Where Genomics, Public Policy and Society Meet" convenes small groups of leading researchers and senior federal policy-makers interested in exploring issues at the interface of genomics and society, and debating various public policy options for addressing them.

Focused on the broad theme of 'translational genomics', the 2011 GPS series will kick off April 18, and through three separate events will explore GE3LS issues related to translating scientific advances into applications. Topics will include intellectual property rights and shared resources; genomic entrepreneurialism and bringing products to the market; and issues related to regulatory science, such as the review of plants with genetically modified traits.

The GPS series was conceived to help promote two-way dialogue between researchers and policy-makers, in a bid to help inform evidence-based public policy and identify future research priorities. Sessions take place three times a year, in Ottawa.

Last year's inaugural series focused on genetic information. Topics explored included consent, privacy and research biobanks; genetic information and discrimination; and online direct-to-consumer genetic testing. For comprehensive information on current and past sessions, including Policy Directions Briefs and podcasts of all keynote presentations, see Genome Canada's GPS Policy Portal.

For more info, contact Karine Morin, Director, National GE3LS Program, Genome Canada.

2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition Applications for Genome Canada's 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition were reviewed this past January in Toronto.

Under the competition, a maximum of $60 million is available from the Government of Canada through Genome Canada, with 50 percent of the requested funding for eligible costs to be obtained through co-funding from other sources. $30 million is available for projects targeting forestry and the environment – designated the "Targeted Competition", while the remaining $30 million is available for projects targeting Genome Canada's other strategic sectors (agriculture, fisheries and human health) – designated the "Multi-Sector Competition".

A total of 39 applications were reviewed, 20 Targeted (Forestry and Environment) and 19 Multi-Sector. Included in the 39 is one large-scale, stand-alone GE3LS application. (All of the 38 science-based applications were required to integrate a GE3LS research component.)

Applications were reviewed by an International Review Committee of 55 multidisciplinary experts, who assessed applications based on scientific merit and potential socio-economic benefits to Canada, along with reviewing management and financial aspects.

The Committee included GE3LS experts from the US, the UK and the Netherlands, individuals who hold diverse backgrounds in such areas as communication, ethics, economics (related to health, agriculture and forestry), environmental science, law, sociology, and philosophy.

For funding announcements and up-to-date competition information, check the "Competitions and Funding Initiatives" section of Genome Canada's website.

Research Ethics:
TCPS revamped The second edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans – "TCPS 2" – was released in December 2010.

The second edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans – "TCPS 2" – was released in December 2010. TCPS was created to serve as a single reference document for all research involving humans conducted by institutions eligible for funding by the three federal research agencies – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). TCPS 2 represents the first comprehensive revision of the joint research ethics policy statement since its adoption in 1998.

Long-time GE3LS researcher Dr. Tim Caulfield was a member of the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics that spearheaded the revision process. Established in 2001, the Panel helps ensure TCPS "evolves to keep pace with changes in research and society at large".

According to Caulfield, "Both the context of research and the thinking about research ethics issues continue to evolve. New issues, technologies and challenges emerge. Given this reality, constant revisions seem essential."

"Developing the new draft was a tremendously challenging, but fruitful, process," adds Caulfield, a professor at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy. "There are so many different perspectives, needs to consider and existing norms to respect. As a result of these different pressures, I think it's fair to say there are few radical changes. However, the new version seeks to do things like clarify the rules around informed consent for genetic research and facilitate a more efficient, but ethically sound, approach to multi-site research. These kinds of revisions are highly relevant to the genome research community."

What's new in TCPS 2?

  • core principles consolidated
  • guidelines updated in the areas of:
    • clinical trials
    • human biological materials
    • human genetics
    • terminology (e.g., "participant" instead of "subject," or "delegated review" instead of "expedited and departmental reviews")

Source: 2nd Edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans