Prime Minister Announces $450M Fund to Support Health Researchers in Canada

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Vital funds will save thousands of world-class researchers from having to walk away from Canada and their lifesaving work on COVID-19, cancer and other diseases and help them ramp up their labs after the pandemic

TORONTO, May 15, 2020 /CNW/ – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a $450M support package for medical researchers across Canada who are working on a cure and treatment for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Researcher at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. (CNW Group/Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation)

The money will enable important research projects that were suspended because of the pandemic to begin again, with Canadian researchers redoubling their efforts to find cures and treatments for the country’s most pressing health concerns, including COVID-19.

“Science and research is our door to a brighter future and that has never been clearer,” the Prime Minister said today in his daily address. “But because of the pandemic, many labs have closed or are at risk of imminently closing. (So) today we are announcing $450M to help researchers and research institutions bridge to better times.”

That “bridge to better times” includes start-up fees to help Canada’s research institutions ramp back up to full operation once physical distancing measures are lifted. The money will also provide wage supports to universities and health research institutes, up to 75% per worker, with a maximum of $847 per week.

Research hospital foundation CEOs across Canada laud the new funding as a lifesaver, not only for the researchers and patient populations, but for the Canadian medical research sector.

“Without the subsidy, tens of thousands of world-class researchers across the country were at risk of being laid off, starting next week. Without them, the medical research infrastructure was in real danger of collapse. We are talking about the people in Canada who are working on COVID-19. They’re also working on cures and treatments for nearly all of the most serious diseases we face: cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” says Michael Burns, President and CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

Researchers typically go where they will best be able to do their research; where it will be funded, where they will get resources and where they will be supported. Canada has been able to attract and retain the most talented minds in the world, and has built up a world-class brain trust.

“We’re lucky, because Canadian researchers are among the best in the world. Every day they make discoveries that help us to stay healthy and safe. And we have to support them,” the prime minister said, speaking in French through a translator.

“It has taken decades of careful recruiting and vetting, and billions of dollars, to get Canada to the point where our biomedical research community is one of the best in the world. And the pandemic was threatening to dismantle all that in one fell swoop,” said Bram Freedman, President and CEO of Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital Foundation.

The new fund will allow medical research institutes to retain researchers. Those institutes receive limited or no direct funding from their provincial governments; their funding is pieced together from hospital foundations, external charities, federal and provincial government granting agencies and pharmaceutical industry partners. That money has largely dried up or been redirected to COVID-19 during the pandemic.

“Families across Canada depend on research to find effective solutions for serious health issues. Federal support is critical to protect the vital research infrastructure that saves lives,” said Sarah Roth, President and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation.

Supporting medical researchers through this fund will not only help in the immediate race for a cure for COVID-19 and keep cancer researchers working, it will allow the medical research enterprise in Canada to more easily rebound after the pandemic. It will also keep pharmaceutical industry partners engaged, to continue to develop the life-saving treatments, diagnoses and vaccines that will be vital in the wake of COVID-19.

“We applaud the federal government for this critical fund,” said Burns. “They acted quickly, understanding the immense impact Canada’s medical research professionals have, and the importance of the research enterprise as a whole.”

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