Open letter from Alain Beaudet, President of CIHR, to Canada’s health researchers

April 14, 2016 – Ottawa, Ontario

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to you today to reaffirm CIHR’s commitment to promote Canadian health research excellence and to engage with Canada’s health research community.

As you are I am sure aware, in Budget 2016, the Government of Canada provided CIHR with an additional $30 million per year. This sends a strong signal that the new Government is firmly committed to supporting health research, and specifically investigator-initiated research, including basic science.

This new investment will be entirely dedicated to the ongoing and future Project Grant competitions with a focus on early career investigators.

Many of you have expressed concerns about the outcomes of the current Project Grant competition pilot, which is part of the transition into the new set of investigator-initiated programs launched by CIHR to better meet its mandate of supporting excellence in all areas of health research, while decreasing the administrative burden on researchers and improving the quality, fairness, and transparency of peer review.

“This new investment will be entirely dedicated to the ongoing and future Project Grant competitions with a focus on early career investigators.”

I am keenly aware of these concerns and have taken steps to ensure that wherever possible, course corrections would be applied to ensure that the program runs smoothly and sustainably.

Thus, scientists will be involved in the reviewer selection process and mechanisms will be put in place to ensure Chair-mediated online discussions when there are major disparities in the percent rankings of reviewers.

Scientists who have served as Virtual Chairs for the online process will also be members of the face to face panels for increased continuity between the two stages of the review.

Finally, I wish to reassure the community that, contrary to rumours, the 2016 Project Grant competition (the second pilot) will be held in the fall as planned.

This being said, the funding situation remains challenging, given that our funding capacity has not kept pace with the growth of the application pressure. The current Project Grant competition will therefore be highly competitive. But as we committed before implementing the reforms, the total number of Principal Investigators funded through the open grants competition envelope will not be decreased.

“Many of you already offered sound and helpful advice on ways to improve the system, and I thank you for your insight.”

I am acutely aware that the current transitional period has brought uncertainty and anxiety to many in the community. The old system was well understood and, therefore, predictable. The new system is still being piloted, creating less predictability and, therefore, more unease.

I want you to know that CIHR is aware and cares about your concerns, and that we are listening to your feedback. Many of you already offered sound and helpful advice on ways to improve the system, and I thank you for your insight.

We have made many changes to our processes in response to this feedback and intend to continue doing so as time goes on. In fact, my intent is that moving forward, we adopt new ways to communicate and work together that will ensure greater clarity and transparency.

This open letter is a first step in that direction.

Alain Beaudet, MD, PhD
President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

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