Canadian Institutes of Health Research Annual Report 2018–19

Dr. Alice Aiken

Vice-Chair of the Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

On behalf of the Governing Council, I am pleased to present the 2018-19 Annual Report of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada’s health research funding agency.

I am honoured to have served as Vice-Chair of CIHR’s Governing Council since July 2018. This past year has been a period of significant transformation for CIHR, with transitions in senior leadership and governance structures. I am confident that this renewal will further strengthen our relationship with all of our research partners as we work towards realizing the vision for the CIHR that is embodied in the CIHR Act.

CIHR assumed a major organizational change in terms of governance this past year including a transition of senior leadership bringing welcome stability to the organization after a year and a half of interim leadership. In late 2018, CIHR welcomed a new President, a new Vice-President, Research Programs, and new Governing Council members. Additionally, the separation of the role of the President of CIHR and that of the Chair of Governing Council by an amendment to the CIHR Act in June 2018 further supports our commitment to continuous improvement and accountability to Canadians. In the context of these transitions, CIHR has recently launched a two-year strategic and operational renewal of its governance approaches. This effort is intended to address how the organization is organized to effectively and efficiently make decisions and to engage in implementation and oversight. By strengthening the existing governance foundation and implementing governance best practices, CIHR will be positioned to achieve better outcomes, and restore and maintain the confidence in its work.

In its continued commitment towards enabling better support for research communities, CIHR collaborated with federal colleagues to advance the evidence-based policy agenda of the Government of Canada. In particular, it has supported the development of key government initiatives, including the Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries action plan, the pan-Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance action plan and the national Dementia Strategy; and has provided evidence to support the response to the opioid crisis, the legalization of cannabis and the safety and efficacy of vaping products.

CIHR also remained committed to further harmonizing a broad range of initiatives across the federal granting agencies. Through the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) – created in October 2017, as recommended by Canada’s Fundamental Science Review – CIHR also collaborated on the harmonization of action plans for equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as early career researchers, to enable fair access, equitable participation and evidence-based decision-making. It also led to the creation of the New Frontiers in Research Fund in December 2018, through which the Government of Canada will better support research on interdisciplinary, international, high-risk and fast-breaking issues. The CRCC’s first annual report highlights many of these achievements and more. CIHR has also collaborated with its sister research funding agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, to coordinate efforts within and across the agencies to better support fundamental research. An outcome of these efforts is the Gateway initiative – currently in its discovery phase – which aims to develop a single solution to modernize our respective grants management systems, reduce the administrative burden on users, and improve service delivery and efficiency.

In alignment with its mandate, CIHR also launched several critical research initiatives to address key issues to facilitate the creation of new knowledge. In terms of investments in research, CIHR and several partners are collaborating to address the digital health challenge put to the Minister of Health in her mandate letter. This has led to a multi-year investment in the groundbreaking Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research Canadian Data Platform. This platform is a single portal through which researchers will be able to request access to a multitude of administrative, clinical, and social data from various sources from across the country. The new data platform will help foster an environment where researchers can address questions that cross boundaries and more easily build on the work of their peers, leading to the kinds of advances that improve our health and strengthen our health care system.

As you know, Canadian health systems are organized in a way that requires individuals to receive health services from a number of care providers, in a number of locations, leading to multiple transitions in care over time. This is especially true for individuals experiencing changes to their health status, as they grow older, experiencing a change in care need and/or a change in their location of care. In response, CIHR launched, in 2018, an initiative to support research that transforms the health system to optimize the outcomes of individuals experiencing Transitions in Care. This will help facilitate successful care transitions, thereby reducing susceptibility to fragmentation in care, poor quality of care, unfavorable experiences, compromised patient safety, and adverse medical events.

CIHR continues to make significant progress towards the Action Plan: Building a healthier future for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, which commits CIHR to implement a series of concrete actions to further strengthen Indigenous health research in Canada. In this past year, CIHR organized two important events at the 2018 Indigenous Health Conference, a plenary session to raise awareness of existing challenges in Indigenous health research, and a workshop to integrate perspectives from the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada report, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the 2017 Fundamental Science Review report. This past year also saw the launch of new initiatives to support the government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and address food insecurity among Northern Indigenous Peoples.

On the international front, CIHR has continued to advance its engagement and collaboration with key partners and stakeholders. In many cases, our efforts go further when working in collaboration with counterparts around the world who are facing the same health and scientific challenges we are here in Canada. CIHR has continued to participate in international consortia, for example under the European Horizon 2020 framework programme, to address shared challenges such as dementia, antimicrobial resistance and rare diseases. CIHR is also part of a new agreement with United Kingdom Research and Innovation that has enabled new initiatives on artificial intelligence and diabetes and, along with Canadian partners, showed tremendous international leadership in 2018 by launching a rapid research response to the emerging Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In acknowledgement of the impact of research, Budget 2018 proposed an investment of $354.7 million over five years (with $90.1 million per year ongoing) to increase CIHR’s support for fundamental research. These investments will help provide the research evidence needed to inform healthcare decisions, support a new generation of researchers and build a science community that looks more like Canada – more diverse and with a greater number of women.

Finally, in the short period of time that new leadership has been in place, a clear path has been identified to engage with the research community and other stakeholders in a national dialogue on the future of health research in Canada. This will represent a collective effort to define a vision for Canada’s health research funding ecosystem – a vision that would allow us to create a healthier future for Canadians, for generations to come. The findings from this dialogue will inform the new Strategic Plan for CIHR which will be launched in the summer of 2020 to coincide with CIHR’s 20th anniversary.

Under the President’s direction and the oversight of Governing Council, CIHR will deliver on the Strategic Plan in the coming years. We look forward to the elaboration of a long term, shared vision for an integrated health research ecosystem.

I invite you to read the financial details of this report and to learn more about how CIHR plays a leading role in supporting new scientific knowledge and enabling its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system.


Professor Alice B. Aiken, PhD
Vice-Chair – Governing Council

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