Yes, thanks for the question. It's a big question and it's one that we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about.
I think the challenge is to try to reflect the reality. In science labs across the country people don't think about their research, necessarily, as applied and basic. The research is much more organic than that.
I did my Ph.D. at McGill in biochemistry, and we were working on mechanisms of protein folding inside of cells—how do proteins fold?—and there is a lot of mystery. Proteins have to fold and they do and we don't really know how. We developed certain tests to try different explanations and so on, and those tests ended up being really useful to screen for drugs for cystic fibrosis, which is a folding disease. So the tests we developed for basic science we started using to screen drugs, and we had an agreement with a major drug company to screen rapidly lots and lots of drugs to treat cystic fibrosis. Every time we'd get a hit from the drug screen we would then take it back to the basic side and ask, “What was the target? Does this explain why things are happening the way they do?” It was back and forth, and very fluid.
This has always been the way with science. It doesn't compartmentalize easily into these different areas.
Unfortunately it's tough to create mechanisms to reflect that kind of fluid reality. So we've been working with other research organizations like NSERC and SSHRC, the tri-council, and these other government-funded agencies, to try to find ways to integrate efforts to reflect that. Unfortunately I think we still have a lot of funding silos that say this should either be basic research or it should be applied research.
I think the more government can do to try to encourage either integration of effort and support, or to break down some of these silos and fund research, and encourage research to move in whatever direction is necessary to take us forward, that's really a positive step toward supporting innovation and getting away from this false dichotomy of it being either basic or applied.