Robarts looking to merge with Western

Canada’s only independent research facility in debt

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Robarts Research Institute is Canada’s only independent research facility and, because it’s in debt, it’s looking to merge with Western.

Having raised over $45 million in research grants, the institute has increased costs in personnel, services and amenities by increasing research.

The research scientists are now falling “victim to their own success,” said Susan Horvath, Robarts VP-external.

Robarts conducts research in medical areas like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injury.

“Our board has concluded the current model is simply not sustainable in the long run without changes in the funding model,” said Linda Quattrin, Robarts VP-communications and public affairs.

The merger hasn’t been finalized, though discussion began several months ago, said Ted Garrard, Western VP-external. If the merger goes through, Western will assume responsibility for all aspects of governance and financial commitments of Robarts.

Horvath said Western and Robarts have slightly different definitions of what the debt entails and are working to create a common definition and set a fixed amount. A decision must then be approved by Robarts and Western’s senate and board of governors.

Hovarth said the Canadian Institute for Health provides approximately 21 per cent of private research companies’ overhead costs, compared to 40 per cent in the United States. She suggested if the Canadian budget was as high, Robarts would be financially sound.

A non-profit organization, Robarts was founded in 1986 and has since successfully filed over 80 patents. As an independent venture from the hospital or university, the institute doesn’t receive any government funding for research; it depends on donations and money from research grants and corporate ventures.

Robarts takes a unique, interdisciplinary approach to research, incorporating physicians, physicists, biologists and biomedical engineers, totalling over 600 employees.

Garrard said if Western and Robarts merge, the university won’t determine the research agenda, but ensure projects are supported by the school and fit in with internal research plans.

Currently, 150 graduate students are trained at Robarts.

“We hope the merge will appeal to more undergraduates and graduate students as they would gain experience in a renowned research facility and give Western a chance to preserve this privilege,” Garrard said.

It’s unknown how long the process will take. Horvath said Robarts and Western are working toward “preserving the common goal of science finding.”

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