The brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to new information. This is what allows us to learn.
OBI is no different, and like the brain, we too adapt to new information and learn from experience. Since inception, our goal, to make Ontario a world leader in brain research, commercialization, and care, has remained consistent. We aim to create positive change by supporting the innovations in brain health that will improve people’s lives. Funding science with impact has always been our top priority.
So how close are we to achieving this goal and what have we learned?
If we consider OBI’s collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to research to be an experiment, we have learned a few things over the last decade. Some of our assumptions about this research model proved to be correct:
Long-term and stable network funding creates excellent research opportunities. It brings new perspectives into research, like the involvement of patients, industry partners, and early career investigators or trainees. It also increases Ontario’s visibility on the international stage and attracts new collaborators and funding to Ontario to strengthen its research capabilities. In the last three years alone, these research networks have leveraged over $117 million in additional funding to support their research.
Standardizing data allows new types of questions to be asked. We are seeing many new examples of research that breaks ground in the underlying biology of brain disorders like the identification of genetic risk factors for cerebral palsy and the role of genomic copy number variants in neurodevelopmental disorders.
De-risking investment in neurotech grows a neurotech cluster which creates jobs and helps bring new products to market. Over the last decade OBI’s 86 portfolio companies have brought 19 products to market, like mobility devices and clinically validated apps for mental health, helping improve both the health of individuals and the economy.
Other outcomes of the research model didn’t bear as quickly as intended: an integrated approach would organically lead to research improving clinical practice, data sharing would naturally lead to cross-disorder research questions, research evidence would consistently inform policies for better brain health. In reflection, these are important outcomes that do not simply emerge spontaneously from a collaborative network. Thinking from a system perspective we now realize it will take more targeted investments into new programs, different funding support, and broader expertise from other partners to generate these outcomes faster. Putting the right pieces in place is important given the growing societal impact of brain disorders.
Where we are going
We believe that within the next thirty years we will understand the molecular underpinnings of the brain disorders that affect one in three Ontarians. Population-level screening will be routine through the discovery of risk factors and early, prevention-oriented interventions. Diagnoses will be made and even anticipated based on the molecular fingerprint of disease. A new generation of disease-modifying drugs and technologies will have flooded the market. Treatment strategies employed to harness the brain’s inherent plasticity will facilitate recovery from injury. There will be vast improvements to overall population health with brain disorders being diagnosed earlier, slowed, and even prevented. Citizens will be empowered with knowledge and tools to be proactive in maintaining their brain health. Ontario’s policies related to brain health will inform and be informed by this transformation. The impact of these advances on quality of life, cost of care, and impact on the economy cannot be overstated.
We plan to engage our stakeholders and discuss how we can continue to work towards this vision and create the positive impacts in brain health we all want to see. Over the next several months we will begin discussions about what we are doing well, what we need to start doing, and what we should stop. In fact, we already started this conversation at our last Patient Advisory Committee workshop in June. We will also collect feedback through an impact assessment that will help us understand which of our current programs and supports create the biggest impacts for our stakeholders.
Growing and being open to new ideas
Renewal presents an exciting opportunity to incorporate lessons learned, engage with the ever-growing expertise across the province, and ensure our focus is trained on maximizing value for people living with brain disorders. As a publicly funded organization, it is important that we continue to demonstrate transparency and inclusiveness. Our model has always focused on building and nurturing partnerships.
We want to achieve even better integration of research, commercialization, and the patient community while collecting and using data for improvements in brain health and economic prosperity. An open and competitive process will provide all Ontario-based networks an opportunity to put forward plans that align with these goals. Much has changed in the Ontario neuroscience and brain health landscape in the last decade and we want to ensure that we continue to harness Ontario’s excellence by building strong collaborations.
Like the brain that continuously develops new connections and strengthens existing ones, OBI will continue to grow new collaborations, adapting and learning as we do.