TR Talks – Innovation Heralders Shed Light On The Opportunities And Challenges In Funding Translation 

Zoya Retiwalla | TRP | November 18, 2019

Simply having a pathbreaking innovation doesn’t suffice, an entrepreneurial knack is the cornerstone of translational research.  

Our previous TR Talk (add link) discussed the barriers to innovation and a recurring theme was the difficulty in funding translation. In our most recent talk, our panelists spoke candidly about their take on funding in translational sciences. As is customary at the TR series, we hosted a diverse group of driven researchers, clinicians, health practitioners, and students. Facilitated by the Translational Research Program, the “Funding Translation” TR Talk featured a panel discussion followed by a Q & A round and ended with an engaging networking opportunity. 
The panelists for the talk were David Naylor (Professor of Medicine and President Emeritus at the University of Toronto), Milos Popovic (Institute director of KITE, UHN), and Steve Mann (Chief Scientist at Wearable Computing and Professor at UofT’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering). The panel was led by Salvatore Spadafora (Vice Dean of Post-MD Education) and the discussion offered diverse perspectives on the issues faced in funding translation. They began the discussion by noting that funding is difficult in all spheres of innovation, but it is especially arduous in the healthcare setting.  

“Failure is an interesting aspect of our circles. How do we tell people that it is okay to fail?” Salvatore SpadaforaVice Dean of Post-MD Education started the discussion by posing one of the most pressing questions in the field of translation.  He then went on to talk about how the failure to procure funding leads Canadian IP and talent across the border or to other countries to sell their innovations. “We should create a procurement – innovation-friendly strategy of procurement to keep our talent where it belongs.”   
David Naylor, Professor of Medicine and President Emeritus at the University of Toronto concurred with Salvatore. He believes that it is the need of the hour for our funding policies to change to favour Canadian innovation. He believes – “TR can be an orphan in terms of the funding system.” David said that it was unfortunate that brilliant talent seeks other avenues. As an advocate in translational innovation, he tries his best to help translational researchers find appropriate funding.  
“Ideas are a dime a dozen, dead wrong, ideas are in negative value until you make something happen and show investors that your idea is actually viable.” Steve Mann, Chief Scientist at Wearable Computing and Professor at UofT’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is of the opinion that your belief in your innovation and its application is the decider of whether your innovation will make it to the mainstream or not. He went on to say that entrepreneurial skills clubbed with passion will help in the translation of your innovation into the market. “Things outside the health bureaucracy move faster than in other fields. It’s a challenge but Toronto is a growing epicentre for translational funding.”  
Milos Popovic (Institute director of KITE, UHN) argued that funding is essential but more important than funding is who that funding is coming from. “You don’t only need funding; you need funding from someone who understands what you do and its value.” He is of the opinion that if the sponsor doesn’t know the true value of your innovation, there will be a lot of friction that will make the translation of the project obstacle prone. Finding the right source of funding is a slow process but a fruitful one in the longer run. “Commercialization of innovation needs focus, patience, and perseverance.”  
The panelists brought distinct views from different frontlines of innovation, from healthcare to engineering. Having highlighted the obstacles they were faced with, they doled out advice to aid in overcoming roadblocks to translation. Each of them led by example and assured that they would be delighted to guide TRP students in the right direction for the success of their future innovations.  
This TR Talk was one of a series of sessions hosted by the Translational Research Program in collaboration with the Health Innovation Hub (H2i). These Talks are open to the public and are geared towards interprofessional clinicians, researchers, and trainees to provoke discussion and community building. To learn more about the future TR Talks, please visit our website