Lab Canada

Five cents of each federal R&D funding dollar spent on cancer research, says report

Toronto, ON – The Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA), in its second and expanded survey of cancer research investment in Canada, estimates that five cents of every $1 spent by the federal government on all extramural science and technology R&D went to cancer research in 2006. The survey represents the most comprehensive examination of federal government investment in cancer research undertaken to date, and also provides investment figures from many of the major provincial government organizations and voluntary sector organizations that fund cancer research.

Excluding partner contributions, the federal investment in cancer research was $212.3 million out of an estimated $3,764 million of overall extramural federal R&D spending in 2006/07(1). Research investment by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s lead federal funding agency for health research, accounted for the largest proportion of the cancer research investment at $121.8 million. Other federal investments exceeding $10 million were made by the Canada Foundation for Innovation ($32.2 million), the Indirect Costs program ($22.7 million) and the Canada Research Chairs program ($17.0 million).

Dr Alain Beaudet, new president of CIHR, applauds CCRA’s work in quantifying Canadian investment in cancer research. “Cancer research is a critical part of Canada’s strength in health research and related sciences,” he says. “The CCRA report shows the commitment of the federal government in the area of cancer research and illustrates the vital role played by CIHR as the leading funder of cancer researchers who continue to make headway in our understanding of this formidable disease.”

“By not only quantifying but qualifying Canada’s cancer research investment in terms of the types of research being conducted and the cancer sites being studied, our survey helps to inform cancer research funders as well as key groups like the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer on how future investments may need to be targeted in order to facilitate key discoveries in cancer prevention, detection, treatment and ongoing care,” adds Dr Elizabeth Eisenhauer, chair of the CCRA and president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

The survey also shows that the Canadian Cancer Society was the single largest cancer research funder among the 10 voluntary organizations surveyed with an investment of $44.7 million, which represented nearly 12% of the total investment in 2006. Organizations, other than federal government, surpassing the $10 million cancer research investment figure in 2006 were The Terry Fox Foundation ($19.1 million), Ontario Institute for Cancer Research ($13.3 million), and Fonds de la recherche en sant du Qubec ($10.3 million).

This year’s report provides a detailed analysis of the cancer research investment by six types of funding mechanisms: operating grants; equipment/infrastructure grants; career awards; trainee awards; institutional support; and related support grants. This stratification improves the capacity to produce comparable analysis for organizations and provinces.

Operating grants, competitive grants that support all the direct costs involved in conducting research, accounted for $209 million of the cancer research investment in 2006, and the majority of this investment (63%) came from funding programs that did not restrict researchers in terms of research area or cancer site. The survey suggests that funding programs that focus on specific research areas and/or cancer sites do fill important roles in terms of broadening the scope of research activity undertaken.

The operating grant investment also showed a distinct regional distribution based on funding source when provincial populations were factored in. Per capita federal investment was highest in Quebec at nearly $5 per person, whereas provincial investment was highest in Alberta at nearly $2 per person, and investment by voluntary organizations was highest in Ontario at nearly $3 per person. When the funding sources were pooled, per capita investment exceeded $5 per person in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.

Equipment/infrastructure grants accounted for $116.7 milllion of the 2006 cancer research investment, with the largest share of this investment being from the Canada Foundation of Innovation at $80.4 million (this included the federal contribution of $32.2 million and the estimated partner contribution of $48.2 million).

Career awards, which, for the purposes of the report, included salary awards, research chairs and establishment grants, accounted for $37.5 million of the overall cancer research investment in 2006. Nearly half of this investment (45%) was accounted for by the Canada Research Chairs program. During 2006, there were 211 chairs engaged in cancer research as part of their research activities.

In terms of trainee awards, $26.6 million was invested in trainees, most (86%) of whom were studying at Canadian institutions. Post-doctoral awards/fellowships accounted for 40% of this investment.

Over half (53%) of the overall cancer research investment was for research which was applicable to all cancers, and not specific to a cancer site. Site-specific cancer research comprised $183.5 million of the investment, with six cancer sites accounting for 70% of this investment: breast ($48.4 million); leukemia ($23.5 million); prostate ($16.8 million); colorectal ($14.0 million); brain ($13.1 million); and lung ($12.4 million). The distribution of the site-specific cancer investment varied by funding mechanism.

Future directions

“There are several important initiatives underway which will shape the dollar distribution over the coming years, and this will be tracked in upcoming years of the survey,” explains Dr Eisenhauer. These include:

– The Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, a pan-Canadian cohort study of 300,000 Canadians supported by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and its regional partners, the BC Cancer Agency, the Alberta Cancer Board, Cancer Care Ontario with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Quebec’s CARTaGENE project, and Cancer Care Nova Scotia with Dalhousie University collaborating for work in the Atlantic Provinces.

– The Canadian Cancer Society has launched a special Cancer Research Prevention Initiative. Its first program is focused on research into modifiable risk factors and conditions in cancer. This research program will receive up to $3 million over the next three years. In an effort to fill another area of unmet need, the Canadian Cancer Society will also be establishing a special Centre for Health Economics, Services, Policy and Ethics Research in Cancer Control.

– The creation of the Terry Fox Research Institute, which links major research centres across Canada to focus on translational research – research designed to accelerate the pace at which scientific discoveries become practical solutions to benefit cancer patients

– The Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research, a key element of Canada’s Science and Technology Strategy, which began funding two centres focused on cancer research in 2008.

– Recruitment by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research of a planned 50 internationally recognized principal investigators who will work on innovation programs and platforms as well as translational research programs.

Formalized in December 2003, CCRA is an alliance of cancer research funding organizations and affiliated partners working together to enhance the overall state of cancer research funding in Canada through improved communication, cooperation and coordination. Members include federal and provincial government organizations, non-government organizations and other key stakeholders within the cancer research arena. The alliance also advises the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer on its research agenda.


(1)Based on federal government expenditures on scientific activities as published by Statistics Canada in the December 2007 edition of Sci
ence Statistics (Table 5-1) available at