biomedical research

Tight budgets complicate Canadian health research reforms

A major overhaul of the grant and peer review system at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is underway. But will finances and objections from researchers hamper plans?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) received some good news in the federal government’s pre-election budget this spring: a modest CAN$15 million increase in its $1 billion annual funding. But the extra cash comes with strings attached. The annual increases don’t begin until next year, and all of the new money is earmarked for specific programmes. $2 million is reserved for research on antimicrobial resistance, while the rest will go to the agency’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), which is focused on health-care efficiency and effectiveness. The budget for individual research grants has not been cut, but has failed to keep pace with inflation over the past several years. Read more in The Lancet.

Qatar forges ahead with science vision

Brian Owens visited Qatar to see how the tiny Gulf state is working to become a world leader in health and life sciences research as part of its broader national vision for 2030.

Qatar might be small, but it has big ambitions in several realms, including science. The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is the organisation charged with delivering the country’s research plans along with the rest of its National Vision for 2030, which aims to modernise the state and develop a strong knowledge economy to keep the country going when natural gas reserves eventually run out. The Foundation is a semi-private non-profit organisation, set up in 1995 to help transform Qatar from a petro-state into a leader in education, research, and the arts. It is headed by Sheika Moza bint Nasser Al Missned, one of the wives of the former emir, who takes a strong personal interest in the Foundation’s work, according to those who work there. “She has a strong commitment to health care globally and locally”, says Egbert Schillings, chief executive of the World Innovation Summit for Health, which is held in Qatar’s capital Doha each February.

Health and life sciences is one of the four scientific priorities the Foundation is focused on to realise the national vision—alongside energy and water, cyber security, and environmental research—and some see it as the most important. “The life sciences are definitely where the accent is”, says Schillings. Read more in The Lancet.

Qatar is a research bonanza for foreigners

Qatar’s heavy investment in medical research is attracting Canadians.

For Kim Critchley, dean of the University of Calgary’s Qatar campus, the biggest advantage to doing research in the tiny Arabian Gulf country is clear: the availability of research funding.

“You have this large funding pool, and less competition to access funds,” she says. “Your chance of being funded is much higher than it is in Canada.” Read more in CMAJ.

Strategies to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals

New drugs that could eventually replace or reduce the use of antibiotics in animals are in development to help slow the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Imagine a farm with over 100,000 head of cattle, each one receiving daily low-dose antibiotics in their food or water, not to treat illness, but to make them put on weight faster.

In the United States, the total amount of antibiotics used in food-producing animals rose by 16% between 2009 and 2012, to 14.61 million kilograms per year, and there is a great deal of overlap between the drugs used in animals and those used in humans. The most recent data on human use in the United States, from 2011, shows that Americans used 3.5 million kilograms of antibiotics that year. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Mapping biomedical research in the USA

An overview of biomedical research in the USA—the major funders, trends, and strengths and weaknesses facing the world’s major scientific superpower.

The biomedical research landscape in the USA is so vast and comprehensive that it can be difficult to get a handle on specifics. But within the expanse of the biomedical specialty, there are a few unique aspects that stand out.

America is a leader in funding for biomedical research, from government, industry, and the non-profit sector. And, for such a large country, the research community is remarkably spread out, with high-quality work being done in every region of the nation. But the dominance of the USA is slowly being challenged by the rise in both volume and quality of research done in other countries, though it will be some time yet before any challenger will be able to seize the top spot. Read more in The Lancet.