CIHR@15 – Canadian Institutes of Health Research Annual Report 2014‑15

Delivering Excellence and Innovation

“CIHR’s support throughout my career has been absolutely essential to my progress so far. CIHR supported me through my doctoral and post-doctoral work and in my current research through operating grants and a New Investigator Award.”

Dr. Zabrina Brumme, HIV vaccine researcher

The creation of CIHR in 2000 revolutionized the health research enterprise in Canada.

Built upon a strong foundation of support for basic biomedical science, CIHR branched out to include support for clinical research, health services and policy research, and population and public health research.

CIHR also added a strategic dimension to its investments, allotting a portion of its budget to support research that addresses the most pressing health issues faced by our country.

CIHR stabilized and strengthened Canada’s research-to-results pipeline by ensuring a steady stream of basic research discoveries to fuel innovation. CIHR supported the translation of that fundamental research into concrete solutions – and evaluated their efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Most importantly, CIHR supported the integration of those solutions into the health care system.

Fifteen years later, CIHR has grown into an organization that is the leading voice for health research in Canada, and a driving force for improving the health of Canadians.

In 2014-15, CIHR investments continued to support research that offers the potential to produce new treatments and therapies, strengthen Canada’s health care system, and deliver impact for Canadians. The highlights that follow are examples of the many successes celebrated by CIHR over the past year.

Fighting the spread of Ebola

2014 saw an Ebola epidemic spread throughout the countries of West Africa, and Canada played a significant role in the international efforts to control the outbreak.

Supported by CIHR and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canadian Immunization Research Network (Halifax, Nova Scotia) conducted a Phase 1 clinical trial for Canada’s Ebola vaccine (VSV-EBOV). In this trial, the experimental vaccine was tested on a small group of people and was found to be safe. Interim results of Phase 2 trials in Liberia (sponsored by the USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) are also showing the vaccine to be safe.

In 2014-15, Canada’s Ebola vaccine began a Phase 3 clinical trial in Guinea. This World Health Organization-led effort is supported by CIHR, PHAC, Canada’s International Development Research Centre, and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

Joining forces to fight dementia

Dementia is a major global public health issue. In 2011, an estimated 747,000 Canadians were living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. By 2031, it is estimated that 1.4 million Canadians will have dementia, costing the Canadian economy nearly $300 billion per year.

In response, CIHR and its partners launched the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging – a collaborative research program focused on tackling the challenge of dementia and other neurodegenerative illnesses.

This pan-Canadian initiative is bringing together researchers from coast to coast to generate ideas that will transform the quality of life and quality of services for those living with, or affected by, neurodegenerative diseases.

CIHR’s strategy to fight dementia also includes an international component, which has helped Canada to forge partnerships with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the European Union and China. Through this international outreach, CIHR is building linkages and helping Canadian researchers lead and participate in dementia research opportunities throughout the world.

This year, CIHR was also proud to host the Canada-France Global Dementia Legacy Event, in Ottawa. Conference delegates began the development of an action framework to address the challenges and barriers for collaboration between academia and industry. The framework aims to accelerate the transformation of dementia research into products or services to prevent dementia, delay its onset, and help patients, families and caregivers.

Improving the health of Indigenous peoples

Research is a key component of Canada’s efforts to eliminate the disparities in health outcomes faced by Indigenous peoples.

Through the Partners for Engagement and Knowledge Exchange program, CIHR provided support to the National Association of Friendship Centres, the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Selected by an international peer review panel, each group will seek to find evidence-based solutions to improve health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.

Canada made the promotion of mental wellness in circumpolar communities a priority under its Arctic Council chairmanship, from 2013 to 2015. CIHR contributed to this priority through an international research collaboration focused on mental wellness, resilience, and suicide prevention, under the auspices of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group. The research was led by Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the United States and Russia.

The Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium, held in March 2015, marked the culmination of these efforts. Hosted by the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, in Iqaluit, Nunavut, the symposium united governments, researchers, community leaders, health care practitioners, youth, and other stakeholders to discuss suicide prevention and mental well-being in circumpolar communities. By sharing best practices and identifying what works and what does not work, the symposium marked an important step toward improving health and resiliency in Northern communities.

The United States will be chairing the Arctic Council from 2015 to 2017. Building on the work completed from 2013 to 2015, CIHR has committed to working with the USA’s National Institutes of Health in implementing the next phase of research activities related to mental wellness during that country’s chairmanship.

Research networks – Uniting the best researchers in Canada

This year, CIHR launched three pan-Canadian research networks: the Canadian Respiratory Research Network, the Canadian Stroke Prevention Intervention Network, and the Canadian Vascular Network.

These networks have united Canada’s best minds in these three fields of research. Each network includes a broad group of researchers and stakeholders, ranging from areas of basic discovery to clinical trials, to health systems and services, and to population health.

Together, these researchers will seek solutions to address some of the major health problems faced by Canadians.

CIHR’s newly designed investigator-initiated program

CIHR provides funding to support researchers through a number of different programs. The largest program (which comprises roughly two-thirds of all CIHR funding), is the “investigator-initiated” program. The research funded through this program is directed by Canada’s researchers, who determine the health issues they wish to study, and apply to CIHR for support.

Since the creation of CIHR, Canada’s health research landscape has evolved significantly (for example, collaborative research and multi-disciplinary research have become more common). In consultation with the health research community, CIHR is making changes to the design of its investigator-initiated program and peer review process, in order to keep pace with this evolution and position Canadian health researchers for success.

Significant steps were taken toward introducing the Foundation Scheme and Project Scheme, as well as developing the College of Reviewers.

The Foundation Scheme is designed to provide long-term support to research leaders (researchers at any career stage with a demonstrated track record of success) to pursue innovative and high-impact health research.

The Project Scheme is designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential for important advances in health-related knowledge, health care, health systems and health outcomes, by supporting research projects with a specific purpose and a defined end point.

These programs are made possible thanks to the support of peer reviewers – researchers who generously donate their time to review funding applications.

This year, CIHR made progress on the development and implementation of its new College of Reviewers. Once fully implemented, the College of Reviewers will enhance the current peer review system by improving reviewer recruitment; delivering high-quality education and quality assurance programs; and introducing reviewer incentive and recognition programs.

These changes will better position CIHR to recruit, educate, evaluate, recognize and support a wide variety of experts to meet Canada’s diverse peer review needs.

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