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Strategizing the future of Canada’s genomics ecosystem

Genome Canada hosts first leaders’ roundtable on the future of genomics in Canada (Sept. 23, 2021)

Highlights from the first virtual roundtable - The genomics research and innovation ecosystem: Strategizing the future


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. The first roundtable explored how national research and innovation strategies and ecosystems support innovation and impact—with a focus on how genomics and associated areas of research can help Canada tackle some of today’s biggest challenges.


Framing the discussion

Amid rapid and transformational advances in the biosciences and biotechnology, Canada has a pivotal opportunity to harness its genomics potential to improve lives, drive economic growth and tackle some of today’s biggest challenges. In this context, roundtable participants reflected on how well the challenges and opportunities within the Canadian context align with the structure and focus required for a successful research and innovation ecosystem.

Roundtable 1 discussion focused on three key questions:

  • How can Canada incorporate specific learning from other national research and innovation strategies, and what are the lessons for a mission-driven strategy around genomics? What are our strengths and where are there gaps?
  • How can we ensure we both strengthen Canada’s global standing and competitive advantage and deliver on societal and economic impacts for complex problems?
  • How can a national research and innovation strategy ensure it meets the needs of all communities and delivers on equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigenous engagement imperatives?

Explore – Why this conversation matters now | Host, Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada underline the increased focus on genomics and its impact on our lives.

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 1. Your feedback will help inform future roundtable discussions and Genome Canada’s mission strategy.

Keynote address

Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of Business Development and Innovation at the Research Council of Norway (RCN), delivered a keynote address to spark the day’s discussion. The RCN is the national funding agency for research and innovation in Norway and has recently rethought its approach to connecting research and innovation to deliver high impacts across five strategic areas specifically linked to societal challenges for Norway and beyond:

  • Seas and oceans
  • Climate, the environment, and clean energy
  • Public sector renewal and better public services
  • Enabling industrial technologies
  • Societal security and social cohesion in a globalized world

Within these five areas, the RCN has identified 20 missions that are achievable with effective connections across the research and innovation sectors: an approach that can serve as an example to Genome Canada as we look to drive genomics-enabled missions to meet national and global challenges and help build and drive a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy.

Dr. Fahlvik provided an overview of Norway’s Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019-2028—designed  to enhance competitiveness and innovation capacity, tackle major societal challenges and develop academic and research communities of outstanding quality.

Watch – Keynote by Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of Business Development and Innovation at the Research Council of Norway (R&I Systems and Strategies—Change and Uncertainty)   “We are moving towards a more competitive, effective and efficient innovation system.” - Anne Kjersti Fahlvik

Roundtable respondents

Kicking off discussion with insights on the Canadian research and innovation context:

“[Indigenous] environmental priorities, their priorities for peoplehood and self-governance can actually help fuel the kind of transformation that we need for the whole planet, and so I want us to think about that.” - Dr. Kim TallBear, Professor, University of Alberta; Canada Research Chair, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technosciences and Environment


 “Our research enterprise is extraordinary in genomics and a variety of other disciplines as well. And I challenge you to find a metric on which we do not punch above our weight. We do considerably better than our relative size would suggest, so we start from a great position of strength.” - Gordon McCauley, CEO, AdMare

“I think the great opportunity to see for Canada is really in the cross-sectionality of expertise… You're going to have to bring talent together in a way that is mission-oriented, irrespective of where you're located and think along the lines of clusters that are spread across geography but united together in a cause.” - Dr. Laksmhi Krishnan, Director General, Human Health Therapeutics, National Research Council


Open dialogue – Key insights

The importance of building collaborative ecosystems for impactful, mission-driven research and innovation was a focus of the roundtable open dialogue session. Dive into other discussion highlights below. The rich discussion brought to light these key insights on the future of genomics in Canada:

  • Harnessing the power of genomics through cross-agencycross-sectoral and interdisciplinary approaches is essential to tackling the complex and overlapping challenges facing us today. 
  • COVID-19 has brought genomics awareness and literacy to Canadians like never before. We need to capitalize on this.
  • Knowledge mobilization will be imperative to impact-focused national strategies for genomics research and innovation.
  • Developing and strengthening mechanisms for coordination across federal funding agencies is a critical success factor.
  • We are in a community of knowledge strengthened by our collaborations and connected by our responsibility to society and the environment.
  • Now is the time to define and focus collaborations on the “grand challenges” that can be tackled through genomics.
  • Canada’s research enterprise continues to punch above its weight but risks being  be spread too thin.  We need to make strategic choices and double down on our world-leading genomics strengths.
  • Centering Indigenous communities, knowledge and expertise is imperative to successful research and innovation strategies.
  • Research and innovation strategies aimed at supporting Indigenous engagement and leadership remain siloed. Breaking down those siloes is essential.
  • Focus on ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social impacts of genomics is a key facilitator of research impact. Policy leadership on Genomics in Society is mission critical.
     

Download the full illustration mapping discussion at roundtable 1.

Explore the new virtual hub for Genome Canada's dialogue on the future of genomics in Canada.