Act boldly, Canada: MaRS Chair on R&D strategy

Talent is mobile and the market is hot — so Canada can ill-afford to slacken its commitment to research and must act boldly to move our best ideas into the global marketplace.

That is one of the central messages delivered today to science, medical and business leaders in Montreal as part of a wide-ranging lecture by MaRS Chair Dr. John Evans, recipient of the 2007 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research.

Educator, innovator, medical statesman and humanitarian, Dr. Evans has been awarded the Friesen prize for his “inspired leadership in medical education, health research and institutional development on the global stage.” He is the second recipient, with Dr. Joe Martin, Dean of the Harvard Medical School, receiving the inaugural prize. It is awarded by the Friends of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Dr. Evans’ keynote address, “The Infinite Horizon of Health Research: Is Canada Visible?”, is part of a public forum held at the Universite de Montreal with master of ceremonies Paul Kennedy, host of CBC Radio One’s Ideas program.

In his talk, Dr. Evans challenges Canadian leaders to find better ways to overcome our “natural handicaps” of geography and weak market pull to ensure Canada’s talent pool meets and exceeds its potential.

Much has been accomplished in recent years, he acknowledges, toward the aggregation of talent through Genome Canada, the national Networks of Centres of Excellence, the Canada Foundation for Innovation as well as population-based infrastructure to enable studies of important social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

And he recognizes the burgeoning power of online collaboration through the “thousands of imaginations” engaged in wikis, blogs and other social media — important tools that can help enable Canadian scientists to perform at the highest level of quality and ingenuity.

But Canada also suffers from a huge deficit in health technology trade and lacks the culture of commerce in the health sector, leaving us vulnerable to the growing intensity of global competition. Dr. Evans points to MaRS — and its work connecting the worlds of science, business and venture capital to create global companies — as an inspired model to seed a more entrepreneurial culture that will benefit all of Canadian society.

“It is a bold challenge to create a global address, critical mass and mix of participants…Can we create a national entity driven by the values of inclusiveness and collaboration and significantly more powerful than its provincial parts?” Dr. Evans asks.

“United we stand out…Divided we will not be visible.”