July 13, 2012

What is going on with Canada?

Of the 8 million inhabitants of the Canadian province of Quebec, 6 million can trace their ancestry back to a founder population of only a few thousand settlers who arrived from France in the 17th century. This means that Quebec has a relatively homogeneous population, making it an exciting place for anyone trying to find genes associated with disease.

However, the only commercial attempt to capitalise on this founder population was by a company called Genizon, which failed last year. Genizon's approach resembled that of DeCODE, whose discovery of a variant apparently protecting against Alzheimer's disease made headlines this week. Whether this success is enough to rekindle interest in Quebec's founder population is questionable.

So what about the state of genomics in Canada as a whole?

In other countries, they paint their flag on pickup trucks and airplanes

Academic research in the field is relatively well financed. A lot of the funding comes from Genome Canada, a federal organisation that was established in 2000. It pays for numerous large-scale sequencing projects carried out in Canada, often via one of its regional centres such as the the McGill University and Génome Québec Center in Montreal.

Around half of the funding of Genome Canada comes from the federal government. The other half comes from the provincial governments, international funding bodies, and other sources. Since its inception, Genome Canada has received around C$1bn in federal funding, which is equivalent to C$90m per year. According to the recently announced federal budget, it will have to make do with much less soon: For the next two years, it will only receive annualised funding of C$30m.

How about the private sector? According to Omics Maps, there are currently no businesses running next generation sequencers in Canada. This means that despite large investments in genomics, no large for-profit sequencing service providers have emerged yet.

This does not mean Canada is a desert when it comes to genomics businesses: For example, GenoLogics produces laboratory information management systems (LIMS) specifically for sequencing and genomics, SQI develops diagnostics based on microarrays, and DNA LandMarks supplies genomics research services to the agricultural industry.

There will be more

This post is a part of a series on genomics in different countries, which has already covered France, Germany, and Japan. In the next few months, I will also cover Britain, China, and, if I am brave enough, the United States.

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