Tag Archives: MITACS

The University of British Columbia, ZEN, and graphene research

A company from Ontario (Canada) has signed a memorandum of unterstanding (MOU) for graphene research with the University of British Columbia (Canada, Okanagan Campus). From a June 20, 2019 news item on Azonano,

ZEN Graphene Solutions has announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with the University of British Columbia (UBC), Okanagan Campus, School of Engineering, where ZEN will contribute a minimum of $300,000 over three years in support of graphene research and application development.

A June 10, 2019 ZEN Graphene Solutions news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the MOU,

The main initial objectives defined in the MOU are:

(a) To formalize a collaborative research program utilizing expertise and capabilities from both ZEN and UBC and, where applicable, utilizing additional support and resources from government agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Mitacs and the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP); and,

(b) To structure an initial three-year research program with a committed minimum contribution by ZEN of $100,000 per year in support of UBC-based research projects.

ZEN has already supplied samples of its graphene and graphene oxide to UBC where it has undergone preliminary testing in the following applications:
In multiple battery technologies;
As an additive in cement-based composites;
As an additive to aluminum and aluminum alloys; and,
As a diesel and jet fuel additive.

“UBC has become a strong partner for ZEN over the last year bringing top quality researchers from multiple fields and connecting us with potential industrial partners. We wish to recognize the excellent research contributions made to date by Prof. Lukas Bichler and his team, and we look forward to formalizing our relationship with this agreement,” commented Dr. Francis Dubé.

“The three-year project, slated to begin this summer, challenges UBC engineering researchers to develop the next generation of stronger and lighter composite materials. The partnership with ZEN Graphene will allow for a transformational approach to composite materials development utilizing the unique properties of the Albany Graphite product. This will result in new composite materials with performance characteristics long beyond the reach of engineers and scientists using traditional material processing techniques. Linking to R&D activities at UBC will in turn enable ZEN to develop the Albany Graphite Deposit and get its graphene product to market more rapidly with a clear focus on high-impact real-world applications,” commented Dr. Bichler, associate professor of engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus and research supervisor.
Click here for video

About ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd

ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. is an emerging graphene technology company with a focus on development of the unique Albany Graphite Project. This precursor graphene material provides the company with a competitive advantage in the potential graphene market as independent labs in Japan, UK, Israel, USA and Canada have demonstrated that ZEN’s Albany Graphite/Naturally PureTM easily converts (exfoliates) to graphene, using a variety of simple mechanical and chemical methods.

For further information:
Francis Dubé, Chief Executive Officer
Tel: +1 (289) 821-2820
Email: drfdube@zengraphene.com

To find out more on ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd., please visit our website at www.ZENGraphene.com. A copy of this news release and all material documents in respect of the Company may be obtained on ZEN’s SEDAR profile at www.sedar.ca

Forward Looking Statements

This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements”, which often, but not always, can be identified by the use of words such as “potential”, “believes”, “anticipates”, “expects”, “estimates”, “may”, “could”, “would”, “will”, or “plan”. These statements are based on information currently available to ZEN and ZEN provides no assurance that actual results will meet management’s expectations. Although the Company believes that the expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on them because the Company can give no assurance that they will prove to be correct. Since forward-looking statements address future events and conditions, by their very nature they involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Although ZEN believes that the assumptions and factors used in preparing the forward-looking information in this news release are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on such information, which only applies as of the date of this news release, and no assurance can be given that such events will occur in the disclosed time frames or at all. ZEN disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, other than as required by law. Neither the TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release. The Company’s full disclosure can be found at https://zengraphene.com/disclaimer/

About Zenyatta

Zenyatta’s Albany Graphite Project hosts a large and unique deposit of highly crystalline graphite. Independent labs in Japan, UK, Israel, USA and Canada have demonstrated that Zenyatta’s Albany Graphite/Naturally PureTM easily converts (exfoliates) to graphene, using a variety of simple mechanical and chemical methods. The deposit is located in Northern Ontario, just 30km north of the Trans-Canada Highway, near the communities of Constance Lake First Nation and Hearst. Important nearby infrastructure includes hydro-power, natural gas pipeline, a rail line 50 km away, and an all-weather road just 10 km from the deposit.

For more information on Zenyatta Ventures Ltd., please visit our website at www.zenyatta.ca. A copy of this press release and all material documents with respect of the Company are available on Zenyatta’s SEDAR profile at www.sedar.ca.

CAUTIONARY STATEMENT: Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release. This news release may contain forward looking information and Zenyatta cautions readers that forward-looking information is based on certain assumptions and risk factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the expectations of Zenyatta included in this news release. This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements”, which often, but not always, can be identified by the use of words such as “potential”, “believes”, “anticipates”, “expects”, “estimates”, “may”, “could”, “would”, “will”, or “plan”. These statements are based on information currently available to Zenyatta and Zenyatta provides no assurance that actual results will meet management’s expectations. Forward-looking statements include estimates and statements with respect to Zenyatta’s future plans, objectives or goals, to the effect that Zenyatta or management expects a stated condition or result to occur, including the expected uses for graphite or graphene in the future, and the future uses of the graphite from Zenyatta’s Albany deposit. Since forward-looking statements are based on assumptions and address future events and conditions, by their very nature they involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Actual results relating to, among other things, results of metallurgical processing, ongoing exploration, project development, reclamation and capital costs of Zenyatta’s mineral properties, and Zenyatta’s financial condition and prospects, could differ materially from those currently anticipated in such statements for many reasons such as, but are not limited to: failure to convert estimated mineral resources to reserves; the preliminary nature of metallurgical test results; the inability to identify target markets and satisfy the product criteria for such markets; the inability to complete a prefeasibility study; the inability to enter into offtake agreements with qualified purchasers; delays in obtaining or failures to obtain required governmental, environmental or other project approvals; political risks; uncertainties relating to the availability and costs of financing needed in the future; changes in equity markets, inflation, changes in exchange rates; fluctuations in commodity prices; delays in the development of projects; capital and operating costs varying significantly from estimates and the other risks involved in the mineral exploration and development industry; and those risks set out in Zenyatta’s public documents filed on SEDAR. This list is not exhaustive of the factors that may affect any of Zenyatta’s forward-looking statements. These and other factors should be considered carefully and readers should not place undue reliance on Zenyatta’s forward-looking statements. Although Zenyatta believes that the assumptions and factors used in preparing the forward-looking information in this news release are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on such information, which only applies as of the date of this news release, and no assurance can be given that such events will occur in the disclosed time frames or at all. Zenyatta disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, other than as required by law.

Looking at the June 10, 2019 news release, it seems that they’ve split the company in two with Zenyatta being the corporate name for the mining interests and ZEN Graphene for applications.

Oddly, UBC has not issued its own news release with this happy announcement.

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 3 of 3

This is the final commentary on the report titled,(INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research). Part 1 of my commentary having provided some introductory material and first thoughts about the report, Part 2 offering more detailed thoughts; this part singles out ‘special cases’, sums up* my thoughts (circling back to ideas introduced in the first part), and offers link to other commentaries.

Special cases

Not all of the science funding in Canada is funneled through the four agencies designed for that purpose, (The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) are known collectively as the tri-council funding agencies and are focused on disbursement of research funds received from the federal government. The fourth ‘pillar’ agency, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) is focused on funding for infrastructure and, technically speaking, is a 3rd party organization along with MITACS, CANARIE, the Perimeter Institute, and others.

In any event, there are also major research facilities and science initiatives which may receive direct funding from the federal government bypassing the funding agencies and, it would seem, peer review. For example, I featured this in my April 28, 2015 posting about the 2015 federal budget,

The $45 million announced for TRIUMF will support the laboratory’s role in accelerating science in Canada, an important investment in discovery research.

While the news about the CFI seems to have delighted a number of observers, it should be noted (as per Woodgett’s piece) that the $1.3B is to be paid out over six years ($220M per year, more or less) and the money won’t be disbursed until the 2017/18 fiscal year. As for the $45M designated for TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics), this is exciting news for the lab which seems to have bypassed the usual channels, as it has before, to receive its funding directly from the federal government. [emphases mine]

The Naylor report made this recommendation for Canada’s major research facilities, (MRF)

We heard from many who recommended that the federal government should manage its investments in “Big Science” in a more coordinated manner, with a cradle-to-grave perspective. The Panel agrees. Consistent with NACRI’s overall mandate, it should work closely with the CSA [Chief Science Advisor] in establishing a Standing Committee on Major Research Facilities (MRFs).

CFI defines a national research facility in the following way:

We define a national research facility as one that addresses the needs of a community of Canadian researchers representing a critical mass of users distributed across the country. This is done by providing shared access to substantial and advanced specialized equipment, services, resources, and scientific and technical personnel. The facility supports leading-edge research and technology development, and promotes the mobilization of knowledge and transfer of technology to society. A national research facility requires resource commitments well beyond the capacity of any one institution. A national research facility, whether single-sited, distributed or virtual, is specifically identified or recognized as serving pan-Canadian needs and its governance and management structures reflect this mandate.8

We accept this definition as appropriate for national research facilities to be considered by the Standing Committee on MRFs, but add that the committee should:

• define a capital investment or operating cost level above which such facilities are considered “major” and thus require oversight by this committee (e.g., defined so as to include the national MRFs proposed in Section 6.3: Compute Canada, Canadian Light Source, Canada’s National Design Network, Canadian Research Icebreaker Amundsen, International Vaccine Centre, Ocean Networks Canada, Ocean Tracking Network, and SNOLAB plus the TRIUMF facility); and

• consider international MRFs in which Canada has a significant role, such as astronomical telescopes of global significance.

The structure and function of this Special Standing Committee would closely track the proposal made in 2006 by former NSA [National Science Advisor] Dr Arthur Carty. We return to this topic in Chapter 6. For now, we observe that this approach would involve:

• a peer-reviewed decision on beginning an investment;

• a funded plan for the construction and operation of the facility, with continuing oversight by a peer specialist/agency review group for the specific facility;

• a plan for decommissioning; and

• a regular review scheduled to consider whether the facility still serves current needs.

We suggest that the committee have 10 members, with an eminent scientist as Chair. The members should include the CSA, two representatives from NACRI for liaison, and seven others. The other members should include Canadian and international scientists from a broad range of disciplines and experts on the construction, operation, and administration of MRFs. Consideration should be given to inviting the presidents of NRC [National Research Council of Canada] and CFI to serve as ex-officio members. The committee should be convened by the CSA, have access to the Secretariat associated with the CSA and NACRI, and report regularly to NACRI. (pp. 66-7 print; pp. 100-1 PDF)

I have the impression there’s been some ill feeling over the years regarding some of the major chunks of money given for ‘big science’. At a guess, direct appeals to a federal government that has no official mechanism for assessing the proposed ‘big science’ whether that means a major research facility (e.g., TRIUMF) or major science initiative (e.g., Pan Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy [keep reading to find out how I got the concept of a major science initiative wrong]) or 3rd party (MITACS) has seemed unfair to those who have to submit funding applications and go through vetting processes. This recommendation would seem to be an attempt to redress some of the issues.

Moving onto the third-party delivery and matching programs,

Three bodies in particular are the largest of these third-party organizations and illustrate the challenges of evaluating contribution agreements: Genome Canada, Mitacs, and Brain Canada. Genome Canada was created in 2000 at a time when many national genomics initiatives were being developed in the wake of the Human Genome Project. It emerged from a “bottom-up” design process driven by genomic scientists to complement existing programs by focusing on large-scale projects and technology platforms. Its funding model emphasized partnerships and matching funds to leverage federal commitments with the objective of rapidly ramping up genomics research in Canada.

This approach has been successful: Genome Canada has received $1.1 billion from the Government of Canada since its creation in 2000, and has raised over $1.6 billion through co-funding commitments, for a total investment in excess of $2.7 billion.34 The scale of Genome Canada’s funding programs allows it to support large-scale genomics research that the granting councils might otherwise not be able to fund. Genome Canada also supports a network of genomics technology and innovation centres with an emphasis on knowledge translation and has built domestic and international strategic partnerships. While its primary focus has been human health, it has also invested extensively in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, environment, and, more recently, oil and gas and mining— all with a view to the application and commercialization of genomic biotechnology.

Mitacs attracts, trains, and retains HQP [highly qualified personnel] in the Canadian research enterprise. Founded in 1999 as an NCE [Network Centre for Excellence], it was developed at a time when enrolments in graduate programs had flat-lined, and links between mathematics and industry were rare. Independent since 2011, Mitacs has focused on providing industrial research internships and postdoctoral fellowships, branching out beyond mathematics to all disciplines. It has leveraged funding effectively from the federal and provincial governments, industry, and not-for-profit organizations. It has also expanded internationally, providing two-way research mobility. Budget 2015 made Mitacs the single mechanism of federal support for postsecondary research internships with a total federal investment of $135.4 million over the next five years. This led to the wind-down of NSERC’s Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships Program. With matching from multiple other sources, Mitacs’ average annual budget is now $75 to $80 million. The organization aims to more than double the number of internships it funds to 10,000 per year by 2020.35

Finally, Brain Canada was created in 1998 (originally called NeuroScience Canada) to increase the scale of brain research funding in Canada and widen its scope with a view to encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2011 the federal government established the Canada Brain Research Fund to expand Brain Canada’s work, committing $100 million in new public investment for brain research to be matched 1:1 through contributions raised by Brain Canada. According to the STIC ‘State of the Nation’ 2014 report, Canada’s investment in neuroscience research is only about 40 per cent of that in the U.S. after adjusting for the size of the U.S. economy.36 Brain Canada may be filling a void left by declining success rates and flat funding at CIHR.

Recommendation and Elaboration

The Panel noted that, in general, third-party organizations for delivering research funding are particularly effective in leveraging funding from external partners. They fill important gaps in research funding and complement the work of the granting councils and CFI. At the same time, we questioned the overall efficiency of directing federal research funding through third-party organizations, noting that our consultations solicited mixed reactions. Some respondents favoured more overall funding concentrated in the agencies rather than diverting the funding to third-party entities. Others strongly supported the business models of these organizations.

We have indicated elsewhere that a system-wide review panel such as ours is not well-suited to examine these and other organizations subject to third-party agreements. We recommended instead in Chapter 4 that a new oversight body, NACRI, be created to provide expert advice and guidance on when a new entity might reasonably be supported by such an agreement. Here we make the case for enlisting NACRI in determining not just the desirability of initiating a new entity, but also whether contribution agreements should continue and, if so, on what terms.

The preceding sketches of three diverse organizations subject to contribution agreements help illustrate the rationale for this proposal. To underscore the challenges of adjudication, we elaborate briefly. Submissions highlighted that funding from Genome Canada has enabled fundamental discoveries to be made and important knowledge to be disseminated to the Canadian and international research communities. However, other experts suggested a bifurcation with CIHR or NSERC funding research-intensive development of novel technologies, while Genome Canada would focus on application (e.g., large-scale whole genome studies) and commercialization of existing technologies. From the Panel’s standpoint, these observations underscore the subtleties of determining where and how Genome Canada’s mandate overlaps and departs from that of CIHR and NSERC as well as CFI. Added to the complexity of any assessment is Genome Canada’s meaningful role in providing large-scale infrastructure grants and its commercialization program. Mitacs, even more than Genome Canada, bridges beyond academe to the private and non-profit sectors, again highlighting the advantage of having any review overseen by a body with representatives from both spheres. Finally, as did the other two entities, Brain Canada won plaudits, but some interchanges saw discussants ask when and whether it might be more efficient to flow this type of funding on a programmatic basis through CIHR.

We emphasize that the Panel’s intent here is neither to signal agreement nor disagreement with any of these submissions or discussions. We simply wish to highlight that decisions about ongoing funding will involve expert judgments informed by deep expertise in the relevant research areas and, in two of these examples, an ability to bridge from research to innovation and from extramural independent research to the private and non-profit sectors. Under current arrangements, management consulting firms and public servants drive the review and decision-making processes. Our position is that oversight by NACRI and stronger reliance on advice from content experts would be prudent given the sums involved and the nature of the issues. (pp. 102-4 print; pp. 136-8 PDF)

I wasn’t able to find anything other than this about major science initiatives (MSIs),

Big Science facilities, such as MSIs, have had particular challenges in securing ongoing stable operating support. Such facilities often have national or international missions. We termed them “major research facilities” (MRFs) xi in Chapter 4, and proposed an improved oversight mechanism that would provide lifecycle stewardship of these national science resources, starting with the decision to build them in the first instance. (p. 132 print; p. 166 PDF)

So, an MSI is an MRF? (head shaking) Why two terms for the same thing? And, how does the newly announced Pan Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy fit into the grand scheme of things?

The last ‘special case’ I’m featuring is the ‘Programme for Research Chairs for Excellent Scholars and Scientists’. Here’s what the report had to say about the state of affairs,

The major sources of federal funding for researcher salary support are the CRC [Canada Research Chair]and CERC [Canada Excellence Reseach Chair] programs. While some salary support is provided through council-specific programs, these investments have been declining over time. The Panel supports program simplification but, as noted in Chapter 5, we are concerned about the gaps created by the elimination of these personnel awards. While we focus here on the CRC and CERC programs because of their size, profile, and impact, our recommendations will reflect these concerns.

The CRC program was launched in 2000 and remains the Government of Canada’s flagship initiative to keep Canada among the world’s leading countries in higher education R&D. The program has created 2,000 research professorships across Canada with the stated aim “to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds”5 as part of an effort to curtail the potential academic brain drain to the U.S. and elsewhere. The program is a tri-council initiative with most Chairs allocated to eligible institutions based on the national proportion of total research grant funding they receive from the three granting councils. The vast majority of Chairs are distributed based on area of research, of which 45 per cent align with NSERC, 35 per cent with CIHR, and 20 per cent with SSHRC; an additional special allocation of 120 Chairs can be used in the area of research chosen by the universities receiving the Chairs. There are two types of Chairs: Tier 1 Chairs are intended for outstanding researchers who are recognized as world leaders in their fields and are renewable; Tier 2 Chairs are targeted at exceptional emerging researchers with the potential to become leaders in their field and can be renewed once. Awards are paid directly to the universities and are valued at $200,000 annually for seven years (Tier 1) or $100,000 annually for five years (Tier 2). The program notes that Tier 2 Chairs are not meant to be a feeder group for Tier 1 Chairs; rather, universities are expected to develop a succession plan for their Tier 2 Chairs.

The CERC program was established in 2008 with the expressed aim of “support[ing] Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation.”6 The program aims to award world-renowned researchers and their teams with up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities, making these awards among the most prestigious and generous available internationally. There are currently 27 CERCs with funding available to support up to 30 Chairs, which are awarded in the priority areas established by the federal government. The awards, which are not renewable, require 1:1 matching funds from the host institution, and all degree-granting institutions that receive tri-council funding are eligible to compete. Both the CERC and CRC programs are open to Canadians and foreign citizens. However, until the most recent round, the CERCs have been constrained to the government’s STEM-related priorities; this has limited their availability to scholars and scientists from SSHRC-related disciplines. As well, even though Canadian-based researchers are eligible for CERC awards, the practice has clearly been to use them for international recruitment with every award to date going to researchers from abroad.

Similar to research training support, the funding for salary support to researchers and scholars is a significant proportion of total federal research investments, but relatively small with respect to the research ecosystem as a whole. There are more than 45,000 professors and teaching staff at Canada’s universities7 and a very small fraction hold these awards. Nevertheless, the programs can support research excellence by repatriating top Canadian talent from abroad and by recruiting and retaining top international talent in Canada.

The programs can also lead by example in promoting equity and diversity in the research enterprise. Unfortunately, both the CRC and CERC programs suffer from serious challenges regarding equity and diversity, as described in Chapter 5. Both programs have been criticized in particular for under-recruitment of women.

While the CERC program has recruited exclusively from outside Canada, the CRC program has shown declining performance in that regard. A 2016 evaluation of the CRC program8  observed that a rising number of chairholders were held by nominees who originated from within the host institution (57.5 per cent), and another 14.4 per cent had been recruited from other Canadian institutions. The Panel acknowledges that some of these awards may be important to retaining Canadian talent. However, we were also advised in our consultations that CRCs are being used with some frequency to offset salaries as part of regular faculty complement planning.

The evaluation further found that 28.1 per cent of current chairholders had been recruited from abroad, a decline from 32 per cent in the 2010 evaluation. That decline appears set to continue. The evaluation reported that “foreign nominees accounted, on average, for 13 per cent and 15 per cent respectively of new Tier 1 and Tier 2 nominees over the five-year period 2010 to 2014”, terming it a “large decrease” from 2005 to 2009 when the averages respectively were 32 per cent and 31 per cent. As well, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the attrition rate for chairholders recruited from abroad was 75 per cent higher than for Canadian chairholders, indicating that the program is also falling short in its ability to retain international talent.9

One important factor here appears to be the value of the CRC awards. While they were generous in 2000, their value has remained unchanged for some 17 years, making it increasingly difficult to offer the level of support that world-leading research professors require. The diminishing real value of the awards also means that Chair positions are becoming less distinguishable from regular faculty positions, threatening the program’s relevance and effectiveness. To rejuvenate this program and make it relevant for recruitment and retention of top talent, it seems logical to take two steps:

• ask the granting councils and the Chairs Secretariat to work with universities in developing a plan to restore the effectiveness of these awards; and

• once that plan is approved, increase the award values by 35 per cent, thereby restoring the awards to their original value and making them internationally competitive once again.

In addition, the Panel observes that the original goal was for the program to fund 2,000 Chairs. Due to turnover and delays in filling Chair positions, approximately 10 to 15 per cent of them are unoccupied at any one time.i As a result, the program budget was reduced by $35 million in 2012. However, the occupancy rate has continued to decline since then, with an all-time low of only 1,612 Chair positions (80.6 per cent) filled as of December 2016. The Panel is dismayed by this inefficiency, especially at a time when Tier 2 Chairs remain one of the only external sources of salary support for ECRs [early career researchers]—a group that represents the future of Canadian research and scholarship. (pp. 142-4 print; pp. 176-8 PDF)

I think what you can see as a partial subtext in this report and which I’m attempting to highlight here in ‘special cases’ is a balancing act between supporting a broad range of research inquiries and focusing or pouring huge sums of money into ‘important’ research inquiries for high impact outcomes.

Final comments

There are many things to commend this report including the writing style. The notion that more coordination is needed amongst the various granting agencies, that greater recognition (i.e,, encouragement and funding opportunities) should be given to boundary-crossing research, and that we need to do more interprovincial collaboration is welcome. And yes, they want more money too. (That request is perfectly predictable. When was the last time a report suggested less funding?) Perhaps more tellingly, the request for money is buttressed with a plea to make it partisan-proof. In short, that funding doesn’t keep changing with the political tides.

One area that was not specifically mentioned, except when discussing prizes, was mathematics. I found that a bit surprising given how important the field of mathematics is to  to virtually all the ‘sciences’. A 2013 report, Spotlight on Science, suggests there’s a problem(as noted my Oct. 9, 2013 posting about that report,  (I also mention Canada’s PISA scores [Programme for International Student Assessment] by the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], which consistently show Canadian students at the age of 15 [grade 10] do well) ,

… it appears that we have high drop out rates in the sciences and maths, from an Oct. 8, 2013 news item on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website,

… Canadians are paying a heavy price for the fact that less than 50 per cent of Canadian high school students graduate with senior courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a time when 70 per cent of Canada’s top jobs require an education in those fields, said report released by the science education advocacy group Let’s Talk Science and the pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada.

Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 compiles publicly available information about individual and societal costs of students dropping out STEM courses early.

Even though most provinces only require math and science courses until Grade 10, the report [Spotlight on Science published by Let’s Talk Science and pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada) found students without Grade 12 math could expect to be excluded from 40 to 75 per cent of programs at Canadian universities, and students without Grade 11 could expect to be excluded from half of community college programs. [emphasis mine]

While I realize that education wasn’t the panel’s mandate they do reference the topic  elsewhere and while secondary education is a provincial responsibility there is a direct relationship between it and postsecondary education.

On the lack of imagination front, there was some mention of our aging population but not much planning or discussion about integrating older researchers into the grand scheme of things. It’s all very well to talk about the aging population but shouldn’t we start introducing these ideas into more of our discussions on such topics as research rather than only those discussions focused on aging?

Continuing on with the lack of  imagination and lack of forethought, I was not able to find any mention of independent scholars. The assumption, as always, is that one is affiliated with an institution. Given the ways in which our work world is changing with fewer jobs at the institutional level, it seems the panel was not focused on important and fra reaching trends. Also, there was no mention of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, that could affect basic research. One other thing from my wish list, which didn’t get mentioned, art/science or SciArt. Although that really would have been reaching.

Weirdly, one of the topics the panel did note, the pitiifull lack of interprovincial scientific collaboration, was completely ignored when it came time for recommendations.

Should you spot any errors in this commentary, please do drop me a comment.

Other responses to the report:

Nassif Ghoussoub (Piece of Mind blog; he’s a professor mathematics at the University of British Columbia; he attended one of the roundtable discussions held by the panel). As you might expect, he focuses on the money end of things in his May 1, 2017 posting.

You can find a series of essays about the report here under the title Response to Naylor Panel Report ** on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website.

There’s also this May 31, 2017 opinion piece by Jamie Cassels for The Vancouver Sun exhorting us to go forth collaborate internationally, presumably with added funding for the University of Victoria of which Cassels is the president and vice-chancellor. He seems not to have noticed that Canadian do much more poorly with interprovincial collaboration.

*ETA June 21, 2017: I’ve just stumbled across Ivan Semeniuk’s April 10, 2017 analysis (Globe and Mail newspaper) of the report. It’s substantive and well worth checking out.*

Again, here’s a link to the other parts:

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report) Commentaries

Part 1

Part 2

*’up’ added on June 8, 2017 at 15:10 hours PDT.

**’Science Funding Review Panel Repor’t was changed to ‘Responses to Naylor Panel Report’ on June 22, 2017.

The Canadian science scene and the 2017 Canadian federal budget

There’s not much happening in the 2017-18 budget in terms of new spending according to Paul Wells’ March 22, 2017 article for TheStar.com,

This is the 22nd or 23rd federal budget I’ve covered. And I’ve never seen the like of the one Bill Morneau introduced on Wednesday [March 22, 2017].

Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending — $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year.

But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years. In 2021-22, the budget’s fifth planning year, new spending peaks at $8.2 billion. Which will be about 2.4 per cent of all program spending.

He’s not alone in this 2017 federal budget analysis; CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) pundits, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, and Jennifer Ditchburn said much the same during their ‘At Issue’ segment of the March 22, 2017 broadcast of The National (news).

Before I focus on the science and technology budget, here are some general highlights from the CBC’s March 22, 2017 article on the 2017-18 budget announcement (Note: Links have been removed,

Here are highlights from the 2017 federal budget:

  • Deficit: $28.5 billion, up from $25.4 billion projected in the fall.
  • Trend: Deficits gradually decline over next five years — but still at $18.8 billion in 2021-22.
  • Housing: $11.2 billion over 11 years, already budgeted, will go to a national housing strategy.
  • Child care: $7 billion over 10 years, already budgeted, for new spaces, starting 2018-19.
  • Indigenous: $3.4 billion in new money over five years for infrastructure, health and education.
  • Defence: $8.4 billion in capital spending for equipment pushed forward to 2035.
  • Care givers: New care-giving benefit up to 15 weeks, starting next year.
  • Skills: New agency to research and measure skills development, starting 2018-19.
  • Innovation: $950 million over five years to support business-led “superclusters.”
  • Startups: $400 million over three years for a new venture capital catalyst initiative.
  • AI: $125 million to launch a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
  • Coding kids: $50 million over two years for initiatives to teach children to code.
  • Families: Option to extend parental leave up to 18 months.
  • Uber tax: GST to be collected on ride-sharing services.
  • Sin taxes: One cent more on a bottle of wine, five cents on 24 case of beer.
  • Bye-bye: No more Canada Savings Bonds.
  • Transit credit killed: 15 per cent non-refundable public transit tax credit phased out this year.

You can find the entire 2017-18 budget here.

Science and the 2017-18 budget

For anyone interested in the science news, you’ll find most of that in the 2017 budget’s Chapter 1 — Skills, Innovation and Middle Class jobs. As well, Wayne Kondro has written up a précis in his March 22, 2017 article for Science (magazine),

Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during the budget lock-up, indicated the budgets of the granting councils, the main source of operational grants for university researchers, will be “static” until the government can assess recommendations that emerge from an expert panel formed in 2015 and headed by former University of Toronto President David Naylor to review basic science in Canada [highlighted in my June 15, 2016 posting ; $2M has been allocated for the advisor and associated secretariat]. Until then, the officials said, funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will remain at roughly $848 million, whereas that for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will remain at $773 million, and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] at $547 million.

NSERC, though, will receive $8.1 million over 5 years to administer a PromoScience Program that introduces youth, particularly unrepresented groups like Aboriginal people and women, to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through measures like “space camps and conservation projects.” CIHR, meanwhile, could receive modest amounts from separate plans to identify climate change health risks and to reduce drug and substance abuse, the officials added.

… Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, would funnel $600 million over 5 years allocated in 2016, and $112.5 million slated for public transit and green infrastructure, to create Silicon Valley–like “super clusters,” which the budget defined as “dense areas of business activity that contain large and small companies, post-secondary institutions and specialized talent and infrastructure.” …

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

… Among more specific measures are vows to: Use $87.7 million in previous allocations to the Canada Research Chairs program to create 25 “Canada 150 Research Chairs” honoring the nation’s 150th year of existence, provide $1.5 million per year to support the operations of the office of the as-yet-unappointed national science adviser [see my Dec. 7, 2016 post for information about the job posting, which is now closed]; provide $165.7 million [emphasis mine] over 5 years for the nonprofit organization Mitacs to create roughly 6300 more co-op positions for university students and grads, and provide $60.7 million over five years for new Canadian Space Agency projects, particularly for Canadian participation in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Kondros was either reading an earlier version of the budget or made an error regarding Mitacs (from the budget in the “A New, Ambitious Approach to Work-Integrated Learning” subsection),

Mitacs has set an ambitious goal of providing 10,000 work-integrated learning placements for Canadian post-secondary students and graduates each year—up from the current level of around 3,750 placements. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $221 million [emphasis mine] over five years, starting in 2017–18, to achieve this goal and provide relevant work experience to Canadian students.

As well, the budget item for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is $125M.

Moving from Kondros’ précis, the budget (in the “Positioning National Research Council Canada Within the Innovation and Skills Plan” subsection) announces support for these specific areas of science,

Stem Cell Research

The Stem Cell Network, established in 2001, is a national not-for-profit organization that helps translate stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. Its research holds great promise, offering the potential for new therapies and medical treatments for respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, auto-immune disorders and Parkinson’s disease. To support this important work, Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Stem Cell Network with renewed funding of $6 million in 2018–19.

Space Exploration

Canada has a long and proud history as a space-faring nation. As our international partners prepare to chart new missions, Budget 2017 proposes investments that will underscore Canada’s commitment to innovation and leadership in space. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Quantum Information

The development of new quantum technologies has the potential to transform markets, create new industries and produce leading-edge jobs. The Institute for Quantum Computing is a world-leading Canadian research facility that furthers our understanding of these innovative technologies. Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Institute with renewed funding of $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18.

Social Innovation

Through community-college partnerships, the Community and College Social Innovation Fund fosters positive social outcomes, such as the integration of vulnerable populations into Canadian communities. Following the success of this pilot program, Budget 2017 proposes to invest $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to continue this work.

International Research Collaborations

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) connects Canadian researchers with collaborative research networks led by eminent Canadian and international researchers on topics that touch all humanity. Past collaborations facilitated by CIFAR are credited with fostering Canada’s leadership in artificial intelligence and deep learning. Budget 2017 proposes to provide renewed and enhanced funding of $35 million over five years, starting in 2017–18.

Earlier this week, I highlighted Canada’s strength in the field of regenerative medicine, specifically stem cells in a March 21, 2017 posting. The $6M in the current budget doesn’t look like increased funding but rather a one-year extension. I’m sure they’re happy to receive it  but I imagine it’s a little hard to plan major research projects when you’re not sure how long your funding will last.

As for Canadian leadership in artificial intelligence, that was news to me. Here’s more from the budget,

Canada a Pioneer in Deep Learning in Machines and Brains

CIFAR’s Learning in Machines & Brains program has shaken up the field of artificial intelligence by pioneering a technique called “deep learning,” a computer technique inspired by the human brain and neural networks, which is now routinely used by the likes of Google and Facebook. The program brings together computer scientists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists and others, and the result is rich collaborations that have propelled artificial intelligence research forward. The program is co-directed by one of Canada’s foremost experts in artificial intelligence, the Université de Montréal’s Yoshua Bengio, and for his many contributions to the program, the University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, another Canadian leader in this field, was awarded the title of Distinguished Fellow by CIFAR in 2014.

Meanwhile, from chapter 1 of the budget in the subsection titled “Preparing for the Digital Economy,” there is this provision for children,

Providing educational opportunities for digital skills development to Canadian girls and boys—from kindergarten to grade 12—will give them the head start they need to find and keep good, well-paying, in-demand jobs. To help provide coding and digital skills education to more young Canadians, the Government intends to launch a competitive process through which digital skills training organizations can apply for funding. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $50 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to support these teaching initiatives.

I wonder if BC Premier Christy Clark is heaving a sigh of relief. At the 2016 #BCTECH Summit, she announced that students in BC would learn to code at school and in newly enhanced coding camp programmes (see my Jan. 19, 2016 posting). Interestingly, there was no mention of additional funding to support her initiative. I guess this money from the federal government comes at a good time as we will have a provincial election later this spring where she can announce the initiative again and, this time, mention there’s money for it.

Attracting brains from afar

Ivan Semeniuk in his March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) reads between the lines to analyze the budget’s possible impact on Canadian science,

But a between-the-lines reading of the budget document suggests the government also has another audience in mind: uneasy scientists from the United States and Britain.

The federal government showed its hand at the 2017 #BCTECH Summit. From a March 16, 2017 article by Meera Bains for the CBC news online,

At the B.C. tech summit, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, said the government will act quickly to fast track work permits to attract highly skilled talent from other countries.

“We’re taking the processing time, which takes months, and reducing it to two weeks for immigration processing for individuals [who] need to come here to help companies grow and scale up,” Bains said.

“So this is a big deal. It’s a game changer.”

That change will happen through the Global Talent Stream, a new program under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.  It’s scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.

U.S. companies are taking notice and a Canadian firm, True North, is offering to help them set up shop.

“What we suggest is that they think about moving their operations, or at least a chunk of their operations, to Vancouver, set up a Canadian subsidiary,” said the company’s founder, Michael Tippett.

“And that subsidiary would be able to house and accommodate those employees.”

Industry experts says while the future is unclear for the tech sector in the U.S., it’s clear high tech in B.C. is gearing up to take advantage.

US business attempts to take advantage of Canada’s relative stability and openness to immigration would seem to be the motive for at least one cross border initiative, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From my Feb. 28, 2017 posting,

There was some big news about the smallest version of the Cascadia region on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 when the University of British Columbia (UBC) , the University of Washington (state; UW), and Microsoft announced the launch of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From the joint Feb. 23, 2017 news release (read on the UBC website or read on the UW website),

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft.

Today’s announcement follows last September’s [2016] Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

A Boston Consulting Group study unveiled at the conference showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor” that competes on an international scale, but only if regional leaders work together. The study says that could be possible through sustained collaboration aided by an educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant network of research universities and a dynamic policy environment.

It gets better, it seems Microsoft has been positioning itself for a while if Matt Day’s analysis is correct (from my Feb. 28, 2017 posting),

Matt Day in a Feb. 23, 2017 article for the The Seattle Times provides additional perspective (Note: Links have been removed),

Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday [Feb. 23, 2017] from the leading university in each city.

The partnership has its roots in a September [2016] conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit [emphasis mine.] That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.

Microsoft last year [2016] opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system [emphasis mine].

This was all prior to President Trump’s legislative moves in the US, which have at least one Canadian observer a little more gleeful than I’m comfortable with. From a March 21, 2017 article by Susan Lum  for CBC News online,

U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit travel into his country while simultaneously cutting money from science-based programs provides an opportunity for Canada’s science sector, says a leading Canadian researcher.

“This is Canada’s moment. I think it’s a time we should be bold,” said Alan Bernstein, president of CIFAR [which on March 22, 2017 was awarded $125M to launch the Pan Canada Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the Canadian federal budget announcement], a global research network that funds hundreds of scientists in 16 countries.

Bernstein believes there are many reasons why Canada has become increasingly attractive to scientists around the world, including the political climate in the United States and the Trump administration’s travel bans.

Thankfully, Bernstein calms down a bit,

“It used to be if you were a bright young person anywhere in the world, you would want to go to Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford, or what have you. Now I think you should give pause to that,” he said. “We have pretty good universities here [emphasis mine]. We speak English. We’re a welcoming society for immigrants.”​

Bernstein cautions that Canada should not be seen to be poaching scientists from the United States — but there is an opportunity.

“It’s as if we’ve been in a choir of an opera in the back of the stage and all of a sudden the stars all left the stage. And the audience is expecting us to sing an aria. So we should sing,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said the federal government, with this week’s so-called innovation budget, can help Canada hit the right notes.

“Innovation is built on fundamental science, so I’m looking to see if the government is willing to support, in a big way, fundamental science in the country.”

Pretty good universities, eh? Thank you, Dr. Bernstein, for keeping some of the boosterism in check. Let’s leave the chest thumping to President Trump and his cronies.

Ivan Semeniuk’s March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) provides more details about the situation in the US and in Britain,

Last week, Donald Trump’s first budget request made clear the U.S. President would significantly reduce or entirely eliminate research funding in areas such as climate science and renewable energy if permitted by Congress. Even the National Institutes of Health, which spearheads medical research in the United States and is historically supported across party lines, was unexpectedly targeted for a $6-billion (U.S.) cut that the White House said could be achieved through “efficiencies.”

In Britain, a recent survey found that 42 per cent of academics were considering leaving the country over worries about a less welcoming environment and the loss of research money that a split with the European Union is expected to bring.

In contrast, Canada’s upbeat language about science in the budget makes a not-so-subtle pitch for diversity and talent from abroad, including $117.6-million to establish 25 research chairs with the aim of attracting “top-tier international scholars.”

For good measure, the budget also includes funding for science promotion and $2-million annually for Canada’s yet-to-be-hired Chief Science Advisor, whose duties will include ensuring that government researchers can speak freely about their work.

“What we’ve been hearing over the last few months is that Canada is seen as a beacon, for its openness and for its commitment to science,” said Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science], who did not refer directly to either the United States or Britain in her comments.

Providing a less optimistic note, Erica Alini in her March 22, 2017 online article for Global News mentions a perennial problem, the Canadian brain drain,

The budget includes a slew of proposed reforms and boosted funding for existing training programs, as well as new skills-development resources for unemployed and underemployed Canadians not covered under current EI-funded programs.

There are initiatives to help women and indigenous people get degrees or training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects) and even to teach kids as young as kindergarten-age to code.

But there was no mention of how to make sure Canadians with the right skills remain in Canada, TD’s DePratto {Toronto Dominion Bank} Economics; TD is currently experiencing a scandal {March 13, 2017 Huffington Post news item}] told Global News.

Canada ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other advanced economies when it comes to its share of its graduates in STEM fields, but the U.S. doesn’t shine either, said DePratto [Brian DePratto, senior economist at TD .

The key difference between Canada and the U.S. is the ability to retain domestic talent and attract brains from all over the world, he noted.

To be blunt, there may be some opportunities for Canadian science but it does well to remember (a) US businesses have no particular loyalty to Canada and (b) all it takes is an election to change any perceived advantages to disadvantages.

Digital policy and intellectual property issues

Dubbed by some as the ‘innovation’ budget (official title:  Building a Strong Middle Class), there is an attempt to address a longstanding innovation issue (from a March 22, 2017 posting by Michael Geist on his eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The release of today’s [march 22, 2017] federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:

“This government is the first with a minister for innovation! He’s Navdeep Bains. He frequently posts photos of his meetings on Twitter, with the hashtag “#innovation.” That’s how you know there is innovation going on. A year and a half after he became the minister for #innovation, it’s not clear what Bains’s plans are. It’s pretty clear that within the government he has less than complete control over #innovation. There’s an advisory council on economic growth, chaired by the McKinsey guru Dominic Barton, which periodically reports to the government urging more #innovation.

There’s a science advisory panel, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, that delivered a report to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan more than three months ago. That report has vanished. One presumes that’s because it offered some advice. Whatever Bains proposes, it will have company.”

Wells is right. Bains has been very visible with plenty of meetings and public photo shoots but no obvious innovation policy direction. This represents a missed opportunity since Bains has plenty of policy tools at his disposal that could advance Canada’s innovation framework without focusing on government spending.

For example, Canada’s communications system – wireless and broadband Internet access – falls directly within his portfolio and is crucial for both business and consumers. Yet Bains has been largely missing in action on the file. He gave approval for the Bell – MTS merger that virtually everyone concedes will increase prices in the province and make the communications market less competitive. There are potential policy measures that could bring new competitors into the market (MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators] and municipal broadband) and that could make it easier for consumers to switch providers (ban on unlocking devices). Some of this falls to the CRTC, but government direction and emphasis would make a difference.

Even more troubling has been his near total invisibility on issues relating to new fees or taxes on Internet access and digital services. Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has taken control of the issue with the possibility that Canadians could face increased costs for their Internet access or digital services through mandatory fees to contribute to Canadian content.  Leaving aside the policy objections to such an approach (reducing affordable access and the fact that foreign sources now contribute more toward Canadian English language TV production than Canadian broadcasters and distributors), Internet access and e-commerce are supposed to be Bains’ issue and they have a direct connection to the innovation file. How is it possible for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister to have remained silent for months on the issue?

Bains has been largely missing on trade related innovation issues as well. My Globe and Mail column today focuses on a digital-era NAFTA, pointing to likely U.S. demands on data localization, data transfers, e-commerce rules, and net neutrality.  These are all issues that fall under Bains’ portfolio and will impact investment in Canadian networks and digital services. There are innovation opportunities for Canada here, but Bains has been content to leave the policy issues to others, who will be willing to sacrifice potential gains in those areas.

Intellectual property policy is yet another area that falls directly under Bains’ mandate with an obvious link to innovation, but he has done little on the file. Canada won a huge NAFTA victory late last week involving the Canadian patent system, which was challenged by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Why has Bains not promoted the decision as an affirmation of how Canada’s intellectual property rules?

On the copyright front, the government is scheduled to conduct a review of the Copyright Act later this year, but it is not clear whether Bains will take the lead or again cede responsibility to Joly. The Copyright Act is statutorily under the Industry Minister and reform offers the chance to kickstart innovation. …

For anyone who’s not familiar with this area, innovation is often code for commercialization of science and technology research efforts. These days, digital service and access policies and intellectual property policies are all key to research and innovation efforts.

The country that’s most often (except in mainstream Canadian news media) held up as an example of leadership in innovation is Estonia. The Economist profiled the country in a July 31, 2013 article and a July 7, 2016 article on apolitical.co provides and update.

Conclusions

Science monies for the tri-council science funding agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) are more or less flat but there were a number of line items in the federal budget which qualify as science funding. The $221M over five years for Mitacs, the $125M for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, additional funding for the Canada research chairs, and some of the digital funding could also be included as part of the overall haul. This is in line with the former government’s (Stephen Harper’s Conservatives) penchant for keeping the tri-council’s budgets under control while spreading largesse elsewhere (notably the Perimeter Institute, TRIUMF [Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics], and, in the 2015 budget, $243.5-million towards the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) — a massive astronomical observatory to be constructed on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a $1.5-billion project). This has lead to some hard feelings in the past with regard to ‘big science’ projects getting what some have felt is an undeserved boost in finances while the ‘small fish’ are left scrabbling for the ever-diminishing (due to budget cuts in years past and inflation) pittances available from the tri-council agencies.

Mitacs, which started life as a federally funded Network Centre for Excellence focused on mathematics, has since shifted focus to become an innovation ‘champion’. You can find Mitacs here and you can find the organization’s March 2016 budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance here. At the time, they did not request a specific amount of money; they just asked for more.

The amount Mitacs expects to receive this year is over $40M which represents more than double what they received from the federal government and almost of 1/2 of their total income in the 2015-16 fiscal year according to their 2015-16 annual report (see p. 327 for the Mitacs Statement of Operations to March 31, 2016). In fact, the federal government forked over $39,900,189. in the 2015-16 fiscal year to be their largest supporter while Mitacs’ total income (receipts) was $81,993,390.

It’s a strange thing but too much money, etc. can be as bad as too little. I wish the folks Mitacs nothing but good luck with their windfall.

I don’t see anything in the budget that encourages innovation and investment from the industrial sector in Canada.

Finallyl, innovation is a cultural issue as much as it is a financial issue and having worked with a number of developers and start-up companies, the most popular business model is to develop a successful business that will be acquired by a large enterprise thereby allowing the entrepreneurs to retire before the age of 30 (or 40 at the latest). I don’t see anything from the government acknowledging the problem let alone any attempts to tackle it.

All in all, it was a decent budget with nothing in it to seriously offend anyone.

#BCTECH: being at the Summit (Jan. 18-19, 2016)

#BCTECH Summit 2016*, a joint event between the province of British Columbia (BC, Canada) and the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), a crown corporation formerly known as the Science Council of British Columbia, launched on Jan. 18, 2016. I have written a preview (Jan. 17, 2016 post) and a commentary on the new #BCTECH strategy (Jan. 19, 2016 posting) announced by British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark, on the opening day (Jan. 18, 2016) of the summit.

I was primarily interested in the trade show/research row/technology showcase aspect of the summit focusing (but not exclusively) on nanotechnology. Here’s what I found,

Nano at the Summit

  • Precision NanoSystems: fabricates equipment which allows researchers to create polymer nanoparticles for delivering medications.

One of the major problems with creating nanoparticles is ensuring a consistent size and rapid production. According to Shell Ip, a Precision NanoSystems field application scientist, their NanoAssemblr Platform has solved the consistency problem and a single microfluidic cartridge can produce 15 ml in two minutes. Cartridges can run in parallel for maximum efficiency when producing nanoparticles in greater quantity.

The NanoAssemblr Platform is in use in laboratories around the world (I think the number is 70) and you can find out more on the company’s About our technology webpage,

The NanoAssemblr™ Platform

The microfluidic approach to particle formulation is at the heart of the NanoAssemblr Platform. This well-controlled process mediates bottom-up self-assembly of nanoparticles with reproducible sizes and low polydispersity. Users can control size by process and composition, and adjust parameters such as mixing ratios, flow rate and lipid composition in order to fine-tune nanoparticle size, encapsulation efficiency and much more. The system technology enables manufacturing scale-up through microfluidic reactor parallelization similar to the arraying of transistors on an integrated chip. Superior design ensures that the platform is fast and easy to use with a software controlled manufacturing process. This usability allows for the simplified transfer of manufacturing protocols between sites, which accelerates development, reduces waste and ultimately saves money. Precision NanoSystems’ flagship product is the NanoAssemblr™ Benchtop Instrument, designed for rapid prototyping of novel nanoparticles. Preparation time on the system is streamlined to approximately one minute, with the ability to complete 30 formulations per day in the hands of any user.

The company is located on property known as the Endowment Lands or, more familiarly, the University of British Columbia (UBC).

A few comments before moving on, being able to standardize the production of medicine-bearing nanoparticles is a tremendous step forward which is going to help scientists dealing with other issues. Despite all the talk in the media about delivering nanoparticles with medication directly to diseased cells, there are transport issues: (1) getting the medicine to the right location/organ and (2) getting the medicine into the cell. My Jan. 12, 2016 posting featured a project with Malaysian scientists and a team at Harvard University who are tackling the transport and other nanomedicine) issues as they relate to the lung. As well, I have a Nov. 26, 2015 posting which explores a controversy about nanoparticles getting past the ‘cell walls’ into the nucleus of the cell.

The next ‘nano’ booths were,

  • 4D Labs located at Simon Fraser University (SFU) was initially hailed as a nanotechnology facility but these days they’re touting themselves as an ‘advanced materials’ facility. Same thing, different branding.

They advertise services including hands-on training for technology companies and academics. There is a nanoimaging facility and nanofabrication facility, amongst others.

I spoke with their operations manager, Nathaniel Sieb who mentioned a few of the local companies that use their facilities. (1) Nanotech Security (featured here most recently in a Dec. 29, 2015 post), an SFU spinoff company, does some of their anticounterfeiting research work at 4D Labs. (2) Switch Materials (a smart window company, electrochromic windows if memory serves) also uses the facilities. It is Neil Branda’s (4D Labs Executive Director) company and I have been waiting impatiently (my May 14, 2010 post was my first one about Switch) for either his or someone else’s electrochromic windows (they could eliminate or reduce the need for air conditioning during the hotter periods and reduce the need for heat in the colder periods) to come to market. Seib tells me, I’ll have to wait longer for Switch. (3) A graduate student was presenting his work at the booth, a handheld diagnostic device that can be attached to a smartphone to transmit data to the cloud. While the first application is for diabetics, there are many other possibilities. Unfortunately, glucose means you need to produce blood for the test when I suggested my preference for saliva the student explained some of the difficulties. Apparently, your saliva changes dynamically and frequently and something as simple as taking a sip of orange juice could result in a false reading. Our conversation (mine, Seib’s and the student’s) also drifted over into the difficulties of bringing products to market. Sadly, we were not able to solve that problem in our 10 minute conversation.

  • FPInnovations is a scientific research centre and network for the forestry sector. They had a display near their booth which was like walking into a peculiar forest (I was charmed). The contrast with the less imaginative approaches all around was striking.

FPInnovation helped to develop cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), then called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and I was hoping to be updated about CNC and about the spinoff company Celluforce. The researcher I spoke to was from Sweden and his specialty was business development. He didn’t know much about CNC in Canada and when I commented on how active Sweden has been its pursuit of a CNC application, he noted Finland has been the most active. The researcher noted that making the new materials being derived from the forest, such as CNC, affordable and easily produced for use in applications that have yet to be developed are all necessities and challenges. He mentioned that cultural changes also need to take place. Canadians are accustomed to slicing away and discarding most of the tree instead of using as much of it as possible. We also need to move beyond the construction and pulp & paper sectors (my Feb. 15, 2012 posting featured nanocellulose research in Sweden where sludge was the base material).

Other interests at the Summit

I visited:

  • “The Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) – a lightweight, battery-operated and ergonomic robotic system to help those with mobility issues improve their lives. The exoskeleton features joints and links that correspond to those of a human body and sync with motion. SFU has designed, manufactured and tested a proof-of-concept prototype and the current version can mimic all the motions of hip joints.” The researchers (Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park) pointed out that the ability to mimic all the motions of the hip is a big difference between their system and others which only allow the leg to move forward or back. They rushed the last couple of months to get this system ready for the Summit. In fact, they received their patent for the system the night before (Jan. 17, 2016) the Summit opened.

It’s the least imposing of the exoskeletons I’ve seen (there’s a description of one of the first successful exoskeletons in a May 20, 2014 posting; if you scroll down to the end you’ll see an update about the device’s unveiling at the 2014 World Cup [soccer/football] in Brazil).

Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures of WLLAE yet and the proof-of-concept version may differ significantly from the final version. This system could be used to help people regain movement (paralysis/frail seniors) and I believe there’s a possibility it could be used to enhance human performance (soldiers/athletes). The researchers still have some significant hoops to jump before getting to the human clinical trial stage. They need to refine their apparatus, ensure that it can be safely operated, and further develop the interface between human and machine. I believe WLLAE is considered a neuroprosthetic device. While it’s not a fake leg or arm, it enables movement (prosthetic) and it operates on brain waves (neuro). It’s a very exciting area of research, consequently, there’s a lot of international competition.

  • Delightfully, after losing contact for a while, I reestablished it with the folks (Sean Lee, Head External Relations and Jim Hanlon, Chief Administrative Officer) at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics). It’s a consortium of 19 Canadian research institutions (12 full members and seven associate members).

It’s a little disappointing that TRIUMF wasn’t featured in the opening for the Summit since the institution houses theoretical, experimental, and applied science work. It’s a major BC (and Canada) science and technology success story. My latest post (July 16, 2015) about their work featured researchers from California (US) using the TRIUMF cyclotron for imaging nanoscale materials and, on the more practical side, there’s a Mar. 6, 2015 posting about their breakthrough for producing nuclear material-free medical isotopes. Plus, Maclean’s Magazine ran a Jan. 3, 2016 article by Kate Lunau profiling an ‘art/science’ project that took place at TRIUMF (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not every day that most people get to peek inside a world-class particle physics lab, where scientists probe deep mysteries of the universe. In September [2015], Vancouver’s TRIUMF—home to the world’s biggest cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator—opened its doors to professional and amateur photographers, part of an event called Global Physics Photowalk 2015. (Eight labs around the world participated, including CERN [European particle physics laboratory], in Geneva, where the Higgs boson particle was famously discovered.)

Here’s the local (Vancouver) jury’s pick for the winning image (from the Nov. 4, 2015 posting [Winning Photographs Revealed] by Alexis Fong on the TRIUMF website),

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

With all those hexagons and a spherical shape, the DESCANT looks like a ‘buckyball’ or buckminsterfullerene or C60  to me.

I hope the next Summit features TRIUMF and/or some other endeavours which exemplify, Science, Technology, and Creativity in British Columbia and Canada.

Onto the last booth,

  • MITACS was originally one of the Canadian federal government’s Network Centres for Excellence projects. It was focused on mathematics, networking, and innovation but once the money ran out the organization took a turn. These days, it’s describing itself as (from their About page) “a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.”Their Jan. 19, 2016 news release (coincidental with the #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016?) features a new report about improving international investment in Canada,

    Opportunities to improve Canada’s attractiveness for R&D investment were identified:

    1.Canada needs to better incentivize R&D by rebalancing direct and indirect support measures

    2.Canada requires a coordinated, client-centric approach to incentivizing R&D

    3.Canada needs to invest in training programs that grow the knowledge economy”

    Oddly, entrepreneurial/corporate/business types never have a problem with government spending when the money is coming to them; it’s only a problem when it’s social services.

    Back to MITACS, one of their more interesting (to me) projects was announced at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference. MITACS has inaugurated a Canadian Science Policy Fellowships programme which in its first year (pilot) will see up up to 10 academics applying their expertise to policy-making while embedded in various federal government agencies. I don’t believe anything similar has occurred here in Canada although, if memory serves, the Brits have a similar programme.

    Finally, I offer kudos to Sherry Zhao, MITACS Business Development Specialist, the only person to ask me how her organization might benefit my business. Admittedly I didn’t talk to a lot of people but it’s striking to me that at an ‘innovation and business’ tech summit, only one person approached me about doing business.  Of course, I’m not a male aged between 25 and 55. So, extra kudos to Sherry Zhao and MITACS.

Christy Clark (Premier of British Columbia), in her opening comments, stated 2800 (they were expecting about 1000) had signed up for the #BCTECH Summit. I haven’t been able to verify that number or get other additional information, e.g., business deals, research breakthroughs, etc. announced at the Summit. Regardless, it was exciting to attend and find out about the latest and greatest on the BC scene.

I wish all the participants great and good luck and look forward to next year’s where perhaps we’ll here about how the province plans to help with the ‘manufacturing middle’ issue. For new products you need to have facilities capable of reproducing your devices at a speed that satisfies your customers; see my Feb. 10, 2014 post featuring a report on this and other similar issues from the US General Accountability Office.

*’BCTECH Summit 2016′ link added Jan. 21, 2016.

Suggestions for the new Canadian government regarding science and a Chief Science Officer (Advisor)

I wasn’t the only *one* writing about the new cabinet. In my Nov. 4, 2015 posting I included a roundup of early responses to the election *(oops, the roundup of responses is in my Nov. 2, 2015 posting)* and what that might mean for science and I also speculated on what the new government’s first ‘science’ move might be.

I missed John Dupuis’  (Confessions of a Science Librarian) posting where he provides a roster of the new ministers with some science or technology responsibilities in their portfolios in his Nov. 4, 2015 posting (Note:  Links have been removed),

But Canada has a new government, a new prime minister in Justin Trudeau and a new cabinet. Kirsty Duncan, an actual scientist who worked on the IPPC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], has been appointed Science Minister. Come to think of it, we have a Science Minister. [Note: Canada has had a Minister of State (Science and Technology) for a number of years. This was considered a junior ministry and the junior minister reported to the Minister of Industry Canada, a ministry which seems to have been changed to Innovation, Science and Economic Development.]

The roster of ministers in other science and technology-related portfolios is also very strong. Navdeep Singh Bains at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Lawrence MacAulay at Agriculture and Agri-Food. Jane Philpott at Health. Marc Garneau at Transport. Jim Carr at Natural Resources. Hunter Tootoo at Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard. Catherine McKenna at Environment and Climate Change. And yes, we have a Minister of Climate Change. And Mélanie Joly at Heritage, in charge of Libraries and Archives Canada. [emphasis mine]

Bit of a surprise to see Libraries and Archives Canada listed there but it makes sense when you follow the reasoning (from Dupuis’ Nov. 4, 2015 posting; Note: A link has been removed),

What hasn’t really appeared on any of the lists [of recommendations for what the new government should be addressing] I’ve seen is fixing the damage that the previous Conservative government did to the science library infrastructure in Canada, most prominently to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans library system but also to the systems at Environment Canada and others.

While those libraries were being closed and consolidated, we were assured that the collections were properly merged and weeded, that new scanning and document delivery procedures were being implemented that would effectively replace the local staff and collections and that researchers would see no difference in the level of service. The Federal government did announce an extensive re-visioning of it’s science library infrastructure. Which looks good on paper.

But it’s safe to say that basically no one believed the Conservatives were up to the challenge of doing a good job of this. All the evidence that we were able to see indicated that the merging and consolidation of collections was rushed, haphazard and devoid of planning at best and willfully destructive at worst. As far as I can tell, we have nothing but the previous government’s word that the scanning and document delivery services that were rushed into the breach are anywhere near sufficient. Nor did we see real evidence that they were truly committed to the revisioning.

For more about the depredations to the Fisheries and Oceans libraries along with other government science libraries see my Jan. 30, 2014 posting. In it I note there are issues with digitizing material (there were claims the books weren’t needed as they’d been digitized) and accessing that information in the future.

Getting back to Dupuis, do read his post in its entirety to find out what his suggestions are for a renaissance of a science library system in Canada.

Suggestions for a Chief Science Officer/Advisor

I haven’t seen anyone making suggestions for this office and while I feel the choice of Ted Hsu would be too partisan given that he was a Liberal Member of Parliament and the party’s science critic in the last government, there are other possibilities such as Arvind Gupta (computer scientist) and Lynnd Quarmby (molecular biology).

Gupta who recently and unexpectedly resigned as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC; there’s more about the resignation in my Nov. 4, 2015 posting) has moved, temporarily at least, to the University of Toronto. From 2000 to 2014, Gupta had a enviable reputation as the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] and scientific director of Mitacs Canada, a non-profit that worked with federal and provincial governments and industry to fund student researchers. He was also a member of the Conservative government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council and was involved in a review of government funding for science (aka, Review of Support to R&D [Research and Development]) resulting in what was known as the Jenkins report or by its formal title: Innovation Canada: A Call to Action (published in 2011).

Lynne Quarmby who recently ran for election as a member of the Green Party has had her research recognized by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) with a 2011 Discovery Accelerator Supplement, a funding program reserved for researchers who show strong potential to become international leaders within their field. She is an advocate in a number of areas including gender equality for women in science and technology, as well as, science and climate issues.

Truthfully, I’d like to see Gupta and Quarmby share the position.

Also, I’d like to find out who you’d suggest take on the role* of Canada’s Chief Science Officer/Advisor. Please let me know your recommendations in the comments section.

*This correction made to the first sentence ‘one’ and this correction made to the first paragraph ‘(oops, the roundup of responses is in my Nov. 2, 2015 posting)’ Nov. 5, 2015 at 1145 hours PST.

*’rold’ corrected to ‘role’ on Nov. 16, 2015.

Canada’s cannabis biotech and InMed Pharma’s nanoparticle-based drug delivery system grant

Unfortunately, there’s not much detail about the nanoparticle-based drug delivery of what I gather is a form of cannabis useful in the treatment of glaucoma in this April 16, 2015 news item on Azonano,

InMed Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company that specializes in developing safer, more effective cannabinoid-based therapies, today announced that it has been awarded a grant to further develop the Company’s proprietary nanoparticle-based delivery system for their leading drug candidate CTI-085 for glaucoma.

An April 15, 2015 InMed Pharmaceuticals press release goes on to describe the lead researcher and her past experience, as well as, providing a ‘we’re thrilled and will do wonderful things with this money’ quote,

The Mitacs grant was awarded to Dr. Maryam Kabiri, Ph.D., a researcher with extensive experience in developing nanoparticle-based delivery system. Dr. Kabiri will be working with Prof. Vikramaditya G. Yadav, whose research focuses on metabolic & enzyme engineering and customize novel biosynthetic enzymes that can convert biomass-derived feedstock into better fuels, pharmaceuticals and value-added chemicals. In conjunction with InMed, the Mitacs grant will be utilized to develop a novel delivery system for glaucoma therapy.

Dr. Sazzad Hossain, Chief Scientific Officer, states, “We are pleased to have met the Mitacs funding criteria for the advancement of our proprietary glaucoma delivery system. Not only does this bring us closer to our goals of initiating our Phase 1 trial, but it furthers our business development strategy of having a proprietary delivery system that can be licensed with existing drugs endangered by patent expiration. This “therapy extension” strategy used by drug makers can be a valuable asset to InMed upon successful completion of the program. Additionally, the incorporation of an existing medicine into a new drug delivery system can significantly improve its performance in terms of efficacy, safety, and improved patient compliance.”

About Mitacs
Mitacs is a national, private not-for-profit organization that develops the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills through a suite of unique research and training programs, such as Mitacs-Accelerate, Elevate, Step, Enterprise and Globalink. In partnership with companies, government and universities, Mitacs is supporting a new economy using Canada’s most valuable resource – its people.

For more information on Mitacs, visit www.mitacs.ca.

About InMed
InMed is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company that specializes in developing cannabis based therapies through the Research and Development into the extensive pharmacology of cannabinoids coupled with innovative drug delivery systems. InMeds’ proprietary platform technology, product pipeline and accelerated development pathway are the fundamental value drivers of the Company.

As is becoming increasingly common, there’s a major focus on business even from Dr. Sazzad Hossain, the company’s chief scientific officer who might be expected to comment on the science. Business used to be the purview of the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the chief operating officer,  and/or the chief marketing officer.

I did manage to dig up a bit of information about InMed which was called Cannabis Technologies until fairly recently. Daniel Cossins in a Dec. 1, 2014 article for The Scientist describes the current ‘cannabis pharmaceutical’ scene. The dominant  player on the scene is a UK-based company, GW but InMed merits a mention,

Leading scientists were consulted, including  biotech entrepreneur Geoffrey Guy, who had  previously shown interest in developing cannabis-based medicines. The government granted Guy’s company, GW Pharmaceuticals, a license to grow cannabis plants. Guy’s idea was to generate strains rich in particular cannabinoid compounds that act on the nervous system, then test the effects of various cannabinoid combinations on MS and chronic pain. “It was a case of patient experience guiding scientific exploration,” says Stephen Wright, director of research and development at GW.

In 2010, the company announced the UK launch of its first cannabinoid-based product: Sativex, an oral spray for the treatment of MS spasticity, became the world’s first prescription medicine made from cannabis extracts. Sativex is now approved for use by MS patients in 24 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, and Australia. GW has partnered with Bayer and Novartis to market the  product. It has also signed up with the American branch of Japanese pharma company Otsuka to commercialize the drug in the U.S., where it is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for treating MS spasticity and cancer pain. Earlier this year, GW’s share price surged when the US Food and Drug  Administration (FDA) granted orphan status to its cannabis-derived antiseizure drug Epidiolex, meaning it will be fast-tracked through clinical trials.

The company’s success is blazing a trail. In recent years, a handful of North American companies have set out on a similar path toward producing cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals. At least one company is developing candidates based on synthetic cannabinoids — of which two are already on the market in the U.S. — while several others are extracting chemical cocktails from the plant. They’re all hoping to capitalize on the anticipated growth of the cannabis pharma space by taking advantage of mounting data on the plant’s therapeutic effects.

“Frankly, we looked at GW and saw that the shift toward pharmacological development of marijuana is  already happening,” says Craig Schneider, president and CEO of InMed Pharmaceuticals (formerly Cannabis Technologies), a Vancouver-based biotech focused on pharmaceutical marijuana. “We see the likes of Otsuka, Novartis, and Eli Lilly diving into the space, and we want to be part of that.”

Cossins’ article goes on to discuss cannibinoids providing a tutorial of sorts on the topic. Meanwhile following on the business aspects of this story, Yahoo Finance  hosts a June 25, 2014 article from Accesswire, which provides some insight into the company, which was still being called Cannabis Technologies, and its GW aspirations,

 Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors on cells that repress neurotransmitter release in the brain. While tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and cannabidiol (“CBD”) are the two most popular cannabinoids, there are at least 85 different cannabinoids isolated from cannabis exhibiting various effects that could prove therapeutic.

GW Pharmaceuticals plc (GWPH), a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing, and commercializing novel therapeutics from its proprietary cannabinoid platform, has become the cannabinoid industry’s poster child with a ~$1.4 billion market capitalization and promising data from the clinic for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In this article, we’ll take a look at another opportunity in the sector that many are calling the “junior GW” [InMed Pharma, formerly Cannabis Technologies], focused on leveraging its proprietary Cannabinoid Drug Design Platform to rapidly develop cannabinoid-based therapies.

Fully Integrated Platform Play

Cannabis Technologies Inc. (CSE:CAN) (CANLF) is a biopharmaceutical drug discovery and development company focused on cannabinoids that has been dubbed by many as the “Junior GW” in the space. By leveraging its proprietary Cannabinoid Drug Design Platform, management aims to identify new bioactive compounds within the marijuana plant that interact with certain genes.

According to Chief Science Officer Sazzad Hossain, the platform provides the bioinformatics tools necessary to isolate and identify chemical compounds in medical marijuana in months instead of years. The company plans to use the platform to isolate compounds targeting a specific disease and then outsource the early-stage research and trials to get to Phase I quickly and inexpensively.

The company’s initial focus is on the $12 billion ocular diseases market, including the $5.7 billion glaucoma market, where its CTI-085 is preparing to undergo Phase I clinical trials shortly after having completing preclinical trials. In addition to these areas, management also expressed interest in larger market places like pain and inflammation, as well as orphan diseases, cancers, and metabolic diseases.

Similar to GW Pharmaceuticals, the company also operates a breeding and cultivation division that’s responsible for creating its medicines in-house. The proprietary phyto-stock produced by the division sets the firm apart from some of its competitors that rely on third-parties to manufacture their treatments, since the fully-integrated operations are often both lower cost and greater quality.

They certainly have high business hopes for InMed Pharma. As for the science, the company has a Cannabinoid Science webpage on its site,

The majority of pharmaceutical and academic research & development being performed with cannabis revolves around the understanding of its active ingredients, the Cannabinoids

Currently there are between 80-100 cannabinoids that have been isolated from cannabis, that affect the body’s cannabinoid receptors and are responsible for unique pharmacological effects.

There are three general types of cannabinoids: herbal cannabinoids which occur uniquely in the cannabis; endogenous cannabinoids produced in the bodies of humans and animals and synthetic cannabinoids produced in the laboratory.

I was not able to find anything about the company’s nanoparticle-based delivery system on its website.

Vancouver (Canada) and a city conversation about science that could have been better

Institutional insularity is a problem one finds everywhere. Interestingly, very few people see it that way due in large part to self-reinforcing loopbacks. Take universities for example and more specifically, Simon Fraser University’s April 17, 2014 City Conversation (in Vancouver, Canada) featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta (as of July 2014, president of the University of British Columbia) in a presentation titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!

Contrary to the hope I expressed in my April 14, 2014 post about the then upcoming event, this was largely an exercise in self-reference. Predictably with the flyer they used to advertise the event (the text was reproduced in its entirety in my April 14, 2014 posting), over 90% in the audiences (Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey campuses) were associated with one university or another.  Adding to the overwhelmingly ‘insider’ feel of this event, the speaker brought with him two students who had benefited from the organization he currently leads, Mitacs (a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada program; a Canadian federal government program).

Despite the fact that this was billed as a ‘city conversation’ the talk focused largely on universities and their role in efforts to make Canada more productive and the wonderfulness of Mitacs. Unfortunately, what I wanted to hear and talk about was how Gupta, the students, and audience members saw the role of universities in cities, with a special reference to science.

It was less ‘city’ conversation and more ‘let’s focus on ourselves and our issues’ conversation. Mitacs, Canada’s productivity, and discussion about universities and innovation is of little inherent interest to anyone outside a select group of policy wonks (i.e., government and academe).

The conversation was self-referential until the very end. In the last minutes Gupta mentioned cities and science in the context of how cities in other parts of the world are actively supporting science. (For more about this interest elsewhere, you might find this Oct. 21, 2010 posting which features an article by Richard Van Noorden titled, Cities: Building the best cities for science; Which urban regions produce the best research — and can their success be replicated? as illuminating as I did.)

i wish Gupta had started with the last topic he introduced because Vancouverites have a lot of interest in science. In the last two years, TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, has held a number of events at Science World and elsewhere which have been fully booked with waiting lists. The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies has also held numerous science-themed events which routinely have waiting lists despite being held in one of Vancouver’s largest theatre venues.

If universities really want to invite outsiders into their environs and have city conversations, they need to follow through on the promise (e.g. talking about cities and science in a series titled “City Conversations”), as well as, do a better job of publicizing their events, encouraging people to enter their sacred portals, and addressing their ‘outsider’ audiences.

By the way, I have a few hints for the student speakers,

  • don’t scold your audience (you may find Canadians’ use of space shocking but please keep your indignation and sense of superiority to yourself)
  • before you start lecturing (at length) about the importance of interdisciplinary work, you might want to assess your audience’s understanding, otherwise you may find yourself preaching to the choir and/or losing your audience’s attention
  • before you start complaining that there’s no longer a mandatory retirement age and suggesting that this is the reason you can’t get a university job you may want to consider a few things: (1) your audience’s average age, in this case, I’d estimate that it was at least 50 and consequently not likely to be as sympathetic as you might like (2) the people who work past mandatory retirement may need the money or are you suggesting your needs are inherently more important? (3) whether or not a few people stay on past their ‘retirement’ age has less to do with your university job prospects than demographics and that’s a numbers game (not sure why I’d have to point that out to someone who’s associated with a mathematics organization such as Mitacs)

I expect no one has spoken or will speak to the organizers, Gupta, or the students other than to give them compliments. In fact, it’s unlikely there will be any real critique of having this presentation as part of a series titled “City Conversations” and that brings this posting back to institutional insularity. This problem is everywhere not just in universities and I’m increasingly interested in approaches to mitigating the tendency. If there’s anyone out there who knows of any examples where insularity has been tackled, please do leave a comment and, if possible, links.

Creativity—Connection—Innovation—Dr. Arvind Gupta leads a City (Vancouver, Canada) Conversation this Thursday, April 17, 2014

There’s a lot of excitement about Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) upcoming City Conversation’s April 17, 2014 session featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta, computer scientist and newly appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Being held at 12:30 pm at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, the event will be broadcast (this is a first for the City Conversations program) to both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses as well.  Here’s a description of the event and of the speaker, along with more details about the locations (from the April 13, 2014 announcement; Note: Links have been removed),,

This week’s City Conversation [titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!] will feature Dr. Arvind Gupta, who will discuss the world of research collaborations and innovation, and the role universities and student entrepreneurs play while bringing their ideas to market.

The event will take place at SFU’s Vancouver campus (Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000), from 12:30-1:30pm on April 17, and for the first time City Conversations will be simulcast and open to audiences at SFU’s Burnaby (IRMACS Theatre, ASB 10900) and Surrey (Room 5380) campuses.

Participants at SFU’s satellite locations will be able to comment and ask questions of the presenters through video conferencing, with SFU associate vice president, External Relations Joanne Curry (Burnaby) and SFU Surrey executive director Steve Dooley (Surrey) serving as moderators.

Dr. Gupta, former SFU professor and current CEO and scientific director of Mitacs [Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada) program {a Canadian federal government program}]. Launched at SFU in 1999, Mitacs supports national innovation by coordinating collaborative industry-university research projects with human capital development at its core.

I understand from City Conversations organizer, Michael Alexander, audio will be recorded and a file will be available. I’m not sure what the timing is but the City Conversations Past Event and Recordings webpage is where you can check for the audio file.

I noticed the talk seems to be oriented to the interests of students and staff but am hopeful that some reference will be made to the impact that creativity, connection, and innovation have on a city and how we in Vancouver could participate.

One biographical note of my own here, for two years I tried to contact Michael Alexander with an idea of a City Conversation. We had that conversation March 31, 2014. It was largely focused on my desire to have some science-oriented City Conversations and this is the outcome (and fingers crossed not the last one). I am thrilled to bits.  For anyone wondering what Gupta’s talk has to do with science, innovation is, usually and internationally, code for applied science and technology.

Big bucks for visual analytics at Simon Fraser University (Canada) and at the University of British Columbia (Canada) + a job posting

Apparently, visual analytics are a step beyond visual data. And, Vancouver is an important centre for this activity or so the Dec. 2, 2013 Simon Fraser University (SFU) news release claims,

A new lab being established at Simon Fraser University will advance research and become a hub for training and education in visual analytics, further developing the emerging field.

SFU’s Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs (VARI Labs) will be housed in SFU’s IRMACS facility and managed by the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a joint SFU-UBC [University of British Columbia] institute. A similar lab will be housed at UBC at the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre (MAGIC) in the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS).

Western Economic Diversification Canada is providing $513,141 in funding for the labs. Another $1.5 million in-kind contribution is coming from IBM, $616,000 from funding The Boeing Company had previously pledged to VIVA and a further $303,000 in future operating revenue and working capital, to round out the total project cost at nearly $3 million.

The lab will also host the secure cloud infrastructure necessary to transfer visual analytics science from academia to industries and organizations in Western Canada.

VIVA is the Canadian leader in research and education at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation in visual analytics. [emphasis mine]

Visual analytics, or VA, is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by the use of interactive interfaces.

VIVA’s focus is on effectively applying VA solutions to the actual problems faced by industry and government, a process that draws on interdisciplinary research within the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, the School of Computing Science and within a range of other departments across SFU.

“In addition to delivering industry-specific workshops to groups in healthcare, aerospace, energy, security and others, the VARI lab will enable us to develop additional courses for live and internet delivery,” says VIVA Director Fred Popowich, a professor in SFU’s School of Computing Science.

“We will continue to grow our support for academic programs at both institutions and provide support involving access for students to data and tools at each of the VARI labs, as well as opportunities for paid projects and internships, in collaboration with VIVA’s industry partners and institutional partners, like MITACS.”

Popowich says the many partners supporting the creation of the VARI lab have provided VIVA, students and the community with an advanced, flexible infrastructure for VA research, training and education.

“This forward looking private cloud delivery platform allows VIVA to engage with students and researchers at SFU and UBC,” he adds, noting the virtual nature of the platform extends it to other partners and members of VIVA throughout Western Canada, including Oceans Network Canada in Victoria and universities that are part of the growing CANVAC Network, such as the University of Calgary.

“Thanks to advanced tools for data management and security, this private cloud platform can serve as the basis for secure research data management that will improve access for researchers, and allow for data-driven research and innovation.”

Adds SFU V-P Research Mario Pinto: “We are grateful to the Government of Canada, IBM, and Boeing Canada for this investment. Having these tools available at SFU and UBC builds upon each institution’s considerable strengths in collaborative research and innovation and increases experiential learning opportunities for students in this in-demand field.

“Organizations from diverse sectors across Western Canada stand to benefit from the resulting growth in capacity of visual analytics expertise right here in British Columbia.”

• Researchers set out VIVA’s agenda nearly a decade ago and have been advancing research and education ever since. Created in 2010 through a gift of $1.25 million (US) over five years from The Boeing Company, VIVA is the national leader in scientific and technological innovation in VA, addressing the issues surrounding big data and Canadian industry and government.

• SFU is internationally known as a leader in VA and has established a Canada Research Chair in Visual Analytics.

It’s nice the Canadian leader in this field is in Vancouver but according to the CANVAC (Canadian Network for Visual Analytics) homepage,, there are 12 centres in Canada and that doesn’t seem like a lot of competition. As for SFU being a world leader ((no word about UBC’s ranking)) in this field, strangely (to me), no claim is made about Canada’s world leadership.

I was hoping to find more information about SFU’s leadership position.in this job description posted for SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology,

Canada Research Chair Tier I in Visual Analytics

November 18, 2013

School of Interactive Arts and Technology

Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

We invite applications from leading scholars for a Canada Research Chair Tier I position in Visual Analytics. Visual Analytics is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces. It is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon a range of disciplines including Information Design, Visualisation, Cognitive and Perceptual Sciences, Data Analysis, and others.

SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics. [emphasis mine] SIAT researchers are at the core of the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a multi-university consortium hosted by SFU to support collaboration in VA across universities in BC. VIVA affiliates bridge fundamental cognitive and vision science research with advanced software development in applications that include scientific research, advanced manufacturing, aircraft safety, public health, financial risk, and emergency management.  With support from the Boeing Company, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and federal sources, VIVA has been a leader in promoting visual analytics across Canada and is working with industrial sponsors to establish a national aerospace research consortium.

The CRC Tier I Chair is a highly prestigious position for distinguished scholars. Only senior investigators with outstanding publications will be considered and the applicant is expected to make an application for a Tier 1 CRC within the first year of appointment.  Candidates should demonstrate a strong record of academic accomplishments and the capability to provide leadership to SFUs Visual Analytics community and its collaborators in BC and across Canada. Applicants should be eligible for appointment at the rank of Full Professor and have the terminal degree in their discipline (normally a Ph.D.) in a field relevant to Visual Analytics. The applicant will have an opportunity to establish collaboration with and complement other research areas of strength within our School, including interaction design, human computer interaction, computer aided design, sustainable design, health informatics, cognitive and perceptual science, and learning analytics.

SIAT is a vibrant, multidisciplinary program connecting computing, media and design. SIAT’s teaching and research draw upon fields ranging from cognitive science, media arts, electronic games, design and interactive technology. SIAT offers degrees at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, and is the home of the SFU Visual Analytics graduate certificate program. The School currently enrolls about 800 undergraduates and approximately 110 graduate students, over 65 of whom are at the doctoral level. SIAT’s infrastructure includes purpose-built, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories at SFU’s Surrey campus.

Simon Fraser University at Surrey is the University’s newest campus located in the greater Vancouver region of British Columbia. The area is home to Canada’s cultural and entertainment industry and much of its digital media production. The region’s rich cultural, natural and intellectual resources make it one of the world’s most desirable places to live and work. SIAT works as a unit of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT), which additionally includes the School of Communication, The School of Contemporary Arts, The Master of Publishing Program and the Master’s in Digital Media Program (MDM). In Visual Analytics area, SIAT faculty collaborate closely with colleagues from School of Computing Science in the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority. Simon Fraser University is committed to employment equity and encourages applications from all qualified men and women, including visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities. The successful candidate will begin work on 1 September 2014. Screening of applicants will commence on January 1, 2014 and will continue until position is filled. The successful applicant will develop with the Simon Fraser University the Canada Research Chair application for the October 2014 deadline. All appointments are subject to the availability of funding.

Applicants should seek additional information, about the School at http://www.siat.sfu.ca/ to understand better the character of SIAT and their possible contributions within it.

To apply, candidates should send a recent curriculum vitae, a concise description of their research area and program, a statement of their teaching philosophy to:

Dr. Marek Hatala, Director
School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Simon Fraser University
250-13450 102nd Avenue
Surrey, BC CANADA V3T 0A3

Email: mhatala@sfu.ca

CC: dirsec_siat@sfu.ca

Contact information for three academic referees will be requested of candidates moving to the second stage.

Under authority of the University Act personal information that is required by the university for academic appointment competitions will be collected. For further details see:

http://www.sfu.ca/vpacademic/Faculty_Openings/Collection_Notice.html

Unfortunately, only a simple declaration (the same as in the news release) “SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics”, is made with no supporting information. Maybe one day we will find out what makes SFU a world leader in visual analytics (VA).

I did manage to find some more information about VA from the About Visual Analytics page on the VIVA (Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics) website (Note: Bibliographic references have been removed),

Visual analytics (VA) was initially proposed as a means to help United States intelligence analysts meet the challenge of dealing with the masses of security-related information made available to them following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They literally were lost in a data deluge.

Visual analytics is defined as “the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces.

It is a multidisciplinary field intended to help people understand how to synthesize information in order to derive insights from massive, dynamic, ambiguous, and often conflicting data. In practice, it helps skilled analysts rapidly explore large, complex data sets to gain new insights using interactive visualizations. It draws upon research in a number of relevant areas, including information visualization, human computer interaction, machine learning, statistics, and cognitive science.

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  • Raw data has little intrinsic value.
  • Data mining can help find expected patterns, e.g., prospect for gold and find gold in the data.
  • Visual analytics will help analysts see and explore their data to not only find the expected, but also discover the unexpected, e.g., look for gold and find gold, but also possibly find silver or copper in the same data.

Humans have very impressive visual and cognitive capabilities, but humans change very slowly, e.g., brain volume has only doubled in approximately 2.5 x 106 years.

Computing technology, however, has been changing very quickly, e.g., Moore’s Law demonstrates that integrated circuit capacity has consistently doubled in approximately 2 years periods.

One goal of visual analytics is to build better tools and develop better methods to take advantage of human visual and cognitive problem solving capabilities.

Getting back to this new facility, VARI (Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs), it will be located at SFU’s  Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences (IRMACS) Centre on the university’s Burnaby Mountain campus. As for the new facility mentioned for UBC, I’ve not not been able to find any information about it.