You are here

Where is the future of innovative genomics in Canada? Strengthening our future

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Genome Canada hosts second leaders’ roundtable on the future of genomics in Canada


Genome Canada’s virtual roundtable series (Sept. 23, Oct. 5, Oct. 21) is convening Canada’s genomics research community, global experts and key partners in the national genomics ecosystem with a shared interest in shaping Genome Canada’s—and the country’s—strategic directions for impact in genomics. This series kicks off a broader dialogue on the future of genomics in Canada.

Highlights from the second virtual roundtable - Where is the future of innovative genomics in Canada? Strengthening our future

We are in the early days of a bio revolution where advanced biosciences and biotechnology will fundamentally transform our lives. Driven by the confluence of genomics, big data, artificial intelligence, gene editing and synthetic biology, we have an unparalleled opportunity to deliver homegrown biological solutions to complex problems, drive economic growth and position Canada for global market leadership in key areas of strength and—most fundamentally—protect and improve Canadians’ lives.

Framing the discussion

This roundtable provided an opportunity for Canada’s genomics research community to bring their expertise and insight to framing the question: “Where does Canada have significant global strengths and opportunities in genomics, and what are the areas in which we can lead?” It also fostered discussion on where Canada can benefit from intersections across genomics and related research and innovation sectors, and when we will need to identify priorities in Canada’s investments in genomics.

Roundtable 2 discussion focused on three key questions:

  • What are Canada’s strengths and areas of competitive advantage to leverage for delivering future genomics impacts in Canada and internationally? Where are the unique opportunities to create cross-sectoral benefits from genomics research and innovation in Canada? 
  • How can we ensure we strengthen Canada’s global standing and competitive advantage on our relative areas of strength and also support the broad future of genomics in the country? Where do we need to prioritize and make choices? 
  • How can Canada’s focus on future genomics research and innovation address diverse needs across society, and drive to health, social and economic benefit?

Explore – Why this conversation matters now. Host, Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, CSO of Genome Canada, underlined the increased focus on genomics and the future of genomics in Canada.

Watch – Opening remarks by Elder Claudette Commanda, Executive Director, First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres.

Weigh in – Share your input on the questions discussed at roundtable 2. Your feedback will help inform future roundtable discussions and Genome Canada’s mission strategy.

Keynote address

Professor Dame Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer for England and Senior Responsible Officer for Genomics in the National Health Service of England, delivered a keynote address to spark the day’s discussion. Dame Hill cited Genome UK: the future of healthcare, which sets out how the genomics community will work together to harness the latest advances in genetic and genomic science, research, and technology for the benefit of patients. She outlined five themes for success:

  • Government and senior healthcare leader interest
  • Proof of concept studies
  • Investment in infrastructure
  • Receiver pull to engage with system leaders
  • User pull to demonstrate benefit to healthcare users

Watch – Keynote by Professor Dame Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer for England, and Senior Responsible Officer for Genomics in the National Health Service of England. “It’s always really important that we are reflective of the populations we serve, wherever we are.” – Professor Dame Sue Hill

Breakout session leader summaries

What are Canada’s strengths and areas of competitive advantage to leverage for delivering future genomics impacts in Canada and internationally? “The group highlighted the special relationship between the Provincial Health Authorities and the Genome Centres representing the different regions across the country, and how this relationship can help facilitate implementation of health research in the provinces they operate.” – Dr. Lisette Mascarenhas, Chief Scientific Officer, Genome Prairie

How can Canada’s focus on future genomics research and innovation address diverse needs across society, and drive to health, social and economic benefit? “There was a recognition that we will probably see more system shocks as we deal with climate change. We had a lot of discussion on the importance of using genomics to tackle climate change as it affects biodiversity, crops and animals, and by extension, human health.” – Dr. Gijs van Rooijen, Chief Scientific Officer, Genome Alberta

How can we strengthen Canada’s global standing and competitive advantage on our relative areas of strength and also support the broad future of genomics in the country? “We looked specifically at areas of importance and strength where genomics could play a key role…We focused on the growing threats of pollution to our air quality and food, and how genomics can really help with chemical risk assessment as well with environmental risk assessment.” - Dr. Federica Di Palma, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President Sectors, Genome British Columbia

Breakout sessions key insights  

  • Genome Canada can play a bigger role for genomics in ensuring Canada’s economic growth is environmentally sustainable.
  • We should be addressing not just the adaptation to (and mitigation of) climate change, but also prevention. We are at a critical point to be actively working towards prevention.
  • To increase Canada’s genomics impact, overcoming data challenges—specifically, challenges with data management, storage, interoperability, access and harmonization—is vital.
  • Integration of data is going to be key to connecting different sectors within government research departments.
  • The unique Canadian Genomics Enterprise model is an important driver of research impact, including the regional depth and expertise provided by Genome Centres as we tackle national/international challenges. The importance of pan-Canadian and cross sectoral collaboration to overcome data collection and sharing challenges can’t be overstated.
  • Diversity is a huge strength for us, but people also highlighted that we need to build on projects that actually look at this concept properly to have projects that are well thought out.
  • Canada is emerging as a leader in research collaboration with community and industry—something we need to build on.
  • Canada has an opportunity to build on big strengths in the natural resources sector—including those fueled by investments by the Canadian Genomics Enterprise over the last 20 years. For example, Canada is a global leader in forestry research aimed at mitigating climate change impacts.

Download the full illustration mapping discussion at roundtable 2.