Thursday, January 29, 2009

Genome Canada shut out in latest budget

On Wednesday, the elite of the Genome Scientists from around the world will be gathering at a very exclusive meeting in Marco Island Florida. The AGBT meeting, for the past 8 years has hosted the likes of Craig Venter, and the heads of every major sequencing group from around the world as they discuss advances in sequencing technologies. This has included Canada's own elite, such as Marco Marra and John McPherson, who was lured by Tom Hudson away from the large Baylor Genome Sciences Center in Houston.

In the early years, Canada's participation in the AGBT conference was quite slim, with just a few attendees from British Columbia's Genome Sciences Centre. At that time, Steve Scherer's goups was most likely the largest contributor to the Genome project. This year, a number of elite from across Canada will attend, and give talks. This will be their first chance to gather and talk about the impact of the latest budget from the Harper Government.

The absence of any mention of Genome Canada in the budget has come as a huge shock to Canadian Scientists. With centres across Canada looking as human health, fisheries, agriculture, and forestry, Genome Canada has made huge strides in pushing Canada to the front of Biological Sciences in the past 8 years.

With the potential loss of $140 million in funding, the loss of jobs could be huge in an area where the U.S. is looking to add positions. We could see as mass migration of the some of the most influential scientists of our generation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Canadian Budget not good for Scientists

The latest budget announced by the Canadian goverment has put billions of dollars towards infrastructure costs. Although a large amount of this money is going towards universities to fix up crumbling buildings, little if anything will provide Canada with better scientists.

Funding for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which provides capital equipment money and building money has gone up. This is great and is a good step forward to building better labs for scientists. However, once the labs are built, they require money to actually run pay the researchers and buy the consumables and reagents that actually run them.

Grant money is actually going down in the budget. It means that for those researchers who rely on federal grants, they will need to look harder for lower cost alternatives, or new ways of doing their research.

In the fields of Molecular Biology, this may mean re-tooling their experiments to cut out wasted don't buy a DNA extraction kit...use the old fashion ways of extracting DNA yourself. Another possibility is to use new technologies that by-pass old steps. An example would be the new Kapa Blood kit that amplifies DNA straight out of blood.

Another way is to look for lower cost tubes, gloves, or pipette tips. Whatever it takes to keep your lab running.

We should keep in mind that while the new President Obama has decided to pour more money to scientists in the U.S., we could see our best scientists leave Canada for greener pastures.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pfizer takes over many lost jobs in Canada?

For a mere $68 billion, Pfizer will take over its rival Wyeth. Both have multiple facilities in Canada. Some have suggested that nearly 10% of the workforce will be let go over the coming months as synergies are found between the two giants. Clearly Canadians won't be left out of the downsizing mania that has hit all industries, with the exception of Bio-tech. If we in the biotech industry thought we were safe from the global recession, we see this as a wake-up call. We need to keep sharp, and have our resumes up to date just in case.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Strong Canadian Dollar hits Canadian Scientists

I was shocked recently to find that simple gloves have gone up by more than 25% from my preferred supplier of gloves (ie from $6.95 per box to $8.95 per box). This supplier (who won't be named here) used to be the least expensive ones I could find. I prefer the powder free nitrile or powder free latex. Apparently the Canadian dollar's dive from over 1.10 USD in November 2007 to about $0.83 cents today has meant those companies who are used to margins of 25% are now under water. I used to be at a large multinational who enjoyed gross margins nearing 60% in Canada on products like protein gels, DNA markers, Taq....all high turnover products. I can see my lab bills going up by 25% this year, and I can't say I'm enjoying it. I only wish I had taken advantage of those year-end loss

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