Health Research BC marks one-year anniversary

13 October 2022

Forward Thinking is our thought leadership series focusing on what it takes to be a responsive and responsible health research agency. In this article, Bev Holmes shares key milestones over the past year.

Michael Smith Health Research BC was formally launched on October 13, 2021, 28 years to the day after Dr. Michael Smith received a Nobel Prize for his role in developing an invaluable tool that has become one of the foundations of biotechnology and has given rise to new diagnostic tests and treatments for genetic diseases.

One year later, our founding organizations — BC Academic Health Science Network and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research — are well along the integration path.

We’re grateful to government for significant funding over what promises to be an exciting three years. And we’re already experiencing what our community predicted pre-consolidation: together, we’re in a powerful position to strengthen the health research system for the benefit of British Columbians.

Listening to the community

Advice from our community has guided us over the past year as we strengthen our programs and plan for the future. You confirmed the importance of our talent development, learning health system and knowledge translation efforts and the work of our units. You highlighted opportunities to better connect research and practice, consider the unique needs of different regions and of Indigenous communities, and act on equity, diversity and inclusion in BC’s health research system.

You also validated our dual role of “doing” and “influencing.” The former includes our programs and services — activities the community values, and that we have control over. The latter is about partnering on long-standing system issues — challenges that no one organization can resolve alone, but that must be addressed to realize our collective vision for a globally competitive health research system.

Some highlights and milestones

As noted, we received significant funding from the BC Government in March to address the impacts of COVID-19 and increase our efforts to strengthen BC’s health research system. The BC SUPPORT Unit received $32 million over five years from the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for a second phase of supporting the development of high-quality research informed by patients, clinicians, and other decision makers.

We recently announced funding for 71 Scholars and Research Trainees — 10 of them in partnership — and 31 Convening & Collaborating and Reach award recipients, all of whom are doing exciting work to improve the health of people in British Columbia and beyond.

Peer review for our Health Professional-Investigator competition — which this year included patient, public and community partner review — will be complete by early December.

Clinical Trials BC collated feedback from 170 stakeholders to provide government with a working vision for clinical trials. We launched a scan of health authorities to determine gaps in health research capacity. Research Ethics BC — whose network now includes 24 institutional research ethics boards — prioritized Indigenous research ethics, hosting Indigenous-led cultural safety and humility events and creating a dedicated page for related Indigenous resources. Our Long-Term Care Quality Initiative, involving 27 care homes across the province, is implementing evidence from a Canadian randomized controlled trial, and demonstrating the utility of BC’s Health Data Platform to drive improvement in the long-term care sector.

Finally, our Board of Directors approved a new strategy this summer to guide us through 2025.

Towards 2025

Our 2022-2025 strategy is based on the combined 20+ year track record of successes of the founding organizations in supporting health research in BC. It builds on our strengths, and challenges us to develop new skills, new relationships, and new ways of delivering for British Columbians in a rapidly-evolving context.

Three strategic directions reflect our niche and address the pandemic’s impact on our health research system, drawing on provincial, national and international lessons documented in reports and literature.1, 2 They are:

  • Build research talent for BC’s future
  • Catalyze change for a stronger health research system
  • Mobilize communities for research impact

Considerations of equity, diversity and inclusion are top-of-mind as we implement our strategy, and our commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and self-determination will guide us.

Actions in the short and longer term

Our strategy implementation is a combination of shorter-term actions and discussions with the community to develop longer term ones, informed by ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and adaptation as we proactively scan and respond to changes in the health research system over time.

In the shorter term, we will increase support for Indigenous research talent through existing partnerships, and we are already increasing regional diversity among our Scholars and Research Trainee awardees. The talent continuity fund established during the pandemic continues, and we are exploring academic-industry partnerships. Our Health Professional-Investigator Program will undergo a refresh to make sure it attracts and supports a range of clinicians across BC, and the provincial clinical trials vision, the health authority research capacity scan, and the evaluation of the harmonized research ethics processes will guide us in practical actions to support our community.

For the longer term, we are reaching out about new programs — including Indigenous-led research and provincial, priority-based funding — and on key questions to inform our next steps: what are BC’s health research talent gaps, and how can our competitions help fill them? What system challenges can we partner to resolve? How can our knowledge translation activities further support the use of evidence in practice and policy? What new partnerships can leverage research funding, reduce duplication and maximize impact?

We are committed to co-creating a future where BC is recognized worldwide for a vibrant, coherent, inclusive, and globally competitive health research system that improves the health of British Columbians, the health system and the economy. We look forward to talking with our partners and stakeholders over the coming months, and invite questions, feedback, and sharing of your priorities.


1  COVID-19 Clinical Research Coordination Initiative
2  Hanney S, Straus S, Holmes B. Saving millions of lives but some resources squandered: emerging lessons from health research system pandemic achievements and challenges. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2022. Available here.