Health research pays back province: report

The dividends -- economic and social -- of the $62.8 million UBC's Faculty of Medicine and the affiliated teaching hospitals succeeded in getting for research this year have been outlined in a report recently released by the faculty.

"We commissioned this report to document the value of what we do here -- our aim is to secure more provincial government funding for research," says Dean of Medicine John Cairns. "Without this support, the quality of B.C. health care suffers and so does our goal of a knowledge-based economy in this province."

The faculty is part of the Coalition for Health Research in B.C. that is asking the government to set aside $50 million annually for health research.

The requested new funds would be used to recruit and train researchers in B.C. and to cover operating costs such as research scholar grants, matching operating grants and project support and for the commercialization of technologies developed here.

Last year's budget for the B.C. Health Research Foundation -- the provincial granting agency -- was about $1 million. Funds have not yet been allocated for next year.

"The shortage of provincial funding is severe," says Cairns. "B.C. spent only $1.54 per person on medical research in 1998 compared to Alberta's investment of $11.67."

Cairns is enthusiastic about support from the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF) but points out that BCKDF monies go entirely to capital costs of research infrastructure to match new federal contributions.

"Now B.C. must support the investigators and their programs if we are to compete effectively for federal funding and derive the benefits for the provincial economy," he says.

The 38-page report, prepared by management consulting firm KPMG, describes how medical research contributes to the economy, to science and to society.

Short-term economic impacts of health research conducted in the faculty and the teaching hospitals were calculated using the B.C. government's input-output model. The model looks at where expenditures are being made in the economy and their impact on economic activities in other sectors.

Using the model, it is estimated that the $62.8 million invested yields output in the B.C. economy of $94 to $118 million due to employment and activities such as the manufacture and sale of medical instruments and laboratory equipment.

The report also lists the longer term economic benefits of technology commercialization: the development of intellectual property and new private sector companies.

As of March 31, 1998 there were 29 license agreements between UBC and private companies involving medical research applications, generating approximately $770,000 in royalties for UBC and the teaching hospitals.

As of March 31, 1998, 18 active companies, of a total of 77 UBC spin-off companies, had been formed around discoveries by Faculty of Medicine researchers, according to the University-Industry Liaison Office. These companies reported creating 374 new jobs.

In addition, research laboratories provide employment to statisticians, programmers, co-op and graduate students, laboratory technicians and administrators.

The report also identifies social benefits of the faculty's research such as the development of basic science and clinical knowledge that provides the foundation for future advancements in health care.

"The contribution by the faculty and the teaching hospitals is recognized worldwide -- our health researchers include a Nobel Prize winner and at least a dozen Order of Canada recipients," says Cairns. "But even with this level of excellence, B.C.'s share of total federal medical research funds has declined because of lack of provincial support."

Federal funding is increasing dramatically with the impending establishment of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, he adds, making it more important than ever for B.C. researchers to be able to capture a reasonable share of the $550 million per annum projected to become available within three years.

UBC's affiliated teaching hospitals are the B.C. Cancer Agency, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, Providence Health Care (St. Paul's Hospital) and Women's & Children's Health Centre of British Columbia.

The report has been sent to key provincial cabinet ministers, other members of the Legislative Assembly and B.C. members of Parliament. Copies of the report are available through the office of the associate dean, Research, in the Faculty of Medicine.