McMaster University

McMaster University

Strategic Plan for Research

Introduction

Cancer poses a huge burden to society and this burden is projected to increase significantly over the next two to three decades as the population ages. Hence, the control of cancer represents a priority for current and future health services and for research investment.

Currently, a wide range of cancer-related research and education is being pursued within McMaster University. The Department of Oncology is well positioned to be the "voice" for oncology research in Hamilton and to develop collaborative structures for cancer research and education within the Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University and the wider academic health network at a time when the opportunities to advance knowledge in cancer control are great.

By taking on a leadership role in research, the Department will be able to seize the opportunities provided through the renewed focus on cancer by the federal government through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC), and through provincial initiatives, including the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), to achieve excellence on a national and international scale and to make an impact on reducing the burden of cancer.

This initial three-year strategic plan for research outlines the building blocks required for the Department of Oncology to maximize the opportunity to create a comprehensive centre of excellence in cancer research in Hamilton and at McMaster University.


Strategic Goals

  • The Department of Oncology will be a catalyst for the development and execution of world-class cancer research
  • The Department of Oncology will be a training ground for the next generation of cancer researchers.
  • The Department of Oncology will be a "voice" for cancer research locally, provincially and nationally.
  • The Department of Oncology will provide an exciting, vibrant and inclusive environment for cancer researchers.

Developing the Strategic Plan

The strategic planning exercise sought to:

  • Set over-arching goals for an ongoing strategic research plan
  • Engage faculty members in dialogue about the plan
  • Be informed by strategic plans for other jurisdictions, including cancer research entities
  • Consider the local cancer research environment and identify gaps
  • Determine an initial scope and timeframe for the plan
  • Define specific objectives and related strategies for the initial period of the plan.

Engaging Faculty in Dialogue

In order to develop a departmental strategic plan for research, and at the request of the Acting Chair, the Vice Chair Research and the Director of Development: Academic and Quality Programs, undertook a consultation process with faculty members. From October 2006 through February 2007, meetings were held with a cross section of 21 faculty members holding full time, part time or pending associate appointments in the new Department. Interests spanned fundamental and basic science research, translational research, clinical trials and health services research; and represent faculty at all ranks with both well-established research programs as well as early stage research ideas. This broad consultation helped identify issues and themes of importance to members of the new Department as well as their hopes and vision for cancer research and the role the Department might play in realizing this vision.

Strategic Plans in other Jurisdictions:

In addition to internal consultation, strategic plans and organizational models for other cancer research entities, both research institutes and cancer research funding bodies, were examined. These included McMaster University Research Institutes and Centres of Excellence; the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR); the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR); The Royal Marsden Hospital Institute for Cancer Research in the UK; the Medical Research Council in the UK; the National Cancer Research Institute in the UK; the Broad Institute of MIT, Harvard and affiliated teaching hospitals in Boston; and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US. The external scan provided the opportunity to consider the strategic priorities and organizational models for well-known and highly successful research entities as a means of comparison and objective setting.

Despite variable mandates (e.g. research funding agency versus research centre), there was consistency in the key elements for success outlined in their strategic planning documents and these could be described simply as:

  • Building on strength
  • Investing in people
  • Building capacity
  • Collaborative research
  • Moving research into practice
  • Engaging the public

In consultation with faculty members, and in writing the strategic plan for research for the Department of Oncology, we received support for these elements of success and have incorporated them into the plan. In essence, there is agreement that in combination, these elements work together to create an environment and a culture where research can flourish.

Environmental Scan:

The tone of a strategic plan needs to be positive and upbeat in order to garner enthusiasm to move forward. Nonetheless such a plan is created to address both strengths and weaknesses in a given system. This plan addresses some of these weaknesses, which in themselves can be considered a starting point for moving forward.

There are foci of cancer research activity across the academic institutions in Hamilton, McMaster University, Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC), Hamilton Health Sciences, and St. Josephs Hospital. Some of these have a critical mass of researchers and are internationally recognized for their efforts. Although the cancer research spans the continuum from basic science through clinical trials to health services research, it is not integrated. There are gaps in certain areas; e.g. cancer genetics, limited pathology infrastructure for translational research, and a paucity of basic scientists interested in translational research. There is no one single individual (or group) that speaks for cancer research in Hamilton. This limits our ability to quickly respond to the rapidly changing environment for cancer research. In addition, there is no clear mechanism for setting priorities for recruitment of new researchers.

Within the JCC and HHS there are challenges to overcome for the researcher in the current research environment. There needs to be an advocate for research to provide a "healthy" balance to clinical service needs. A research culture needs to be promoted as a core value. These challenges include:

  1. Three oncology subspecialties; medical oncology, radiation oncology and gynecologic oncology are members of Alternate Payment Plans. These plans are primarily service-driven and academic activities are not valued. Junior clinicians who have received research training are forced to do a high volume of clinical work at a very critical time in their careers when they need protected time to get their research off the ground.
  2. Recruitment to clinical trials is a major and key activity of clinicians at the JCC. This takes considerable time. The contribution of individual physicians to patient recruitment onto trials is generally not considered of great importance in the context of an academic hierarchy leading either to new knowledge or academic credit that will contribute to career advancement. If clinical trials continue as a corner stone of research at the JCC, recruitment by individual clinicians will need to be valued academically.
  3. On the other hand the maintenance of a first-rate trials program is a costly and complex endeavor because of increasing regulatory requirements. A mechanism to prioritize which trials will be done must be established. Currently none exists. There is a clear need to articulate a vision for the way trials are conducted in the JCC.

Scope of the Strategic Plan:

Developing a strategic plan for a new department is a major undertaking. In order to simplify the process we decided to consider the scope of the plan from two perspectives. The first (called internal scope) is from the point-of-view of current members of the Department with full time appointments (medical oncologists, malignant hematologists and radiation oncologists) and those individuals who have their research based primarily in the JCC (e.g. basic scientists, physicists, surgical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists). The second (called broader scope) focuses on research collaborations, which are transdisciplinary between the Department and other researchers at McMaster University and beyond. [Transdisciplinary: collaborations in which exchanging information, altering discipline-specific approaches, sharing resources and integrating different disciplines achieves a common scientific goal. Transdisciplinary refers to integrated research methods, conceptual development, multiple levels of analysis and science that produces new models and understanding exceeds the sum of the parts.]

As a new department it will be very important to set and pursue very focused objectives to support and build research strength with the faculty members who hold primary appointments in oncology. As well, given the history of the development of cancer research at the cancer centre to this date, it is recommended that the internal scope of the strategic plan encompass faculty with primary appointments in other departments but who are located within the cancer centre. Once firmly launched as a new department, oncology will be able to fulfill its broader and more expansive mandate to support and build research strength across the university.

Specific objectives relating to the primary goals stated above are broken out below for both the internal and broader scopes of the strategic plan.

Timeframe:

The timeline for this strategic plan is looking forward for three years.


Objectives and Strategies for First Three Years

Internal Scope:

Objective 1

To enact excellent research throughout the Department, by creating an environment supportive of research. Research excellence is defined by the peer review process.

This will be achieved by:

  • Initiating an organizational structure for research within the Department. This will include establishing a governance structure, appointing an executive, implementing terms of accountability and setting priorities.
  • Establishing an operational model for research within the Departmental organizational structure (e.g. grant submission, finance, space and materials).
  • Creating opportunities for researchers to interact in a collegial and stimulating academic environment.

Objective 2

To ensure that clinical trials and translational research are major research themes and foci of activity for the Department. Translational research includes bench-to-bedside, bedside-to-bench and knowledge translation.

This will be achieved by:

  • Targeting recruitment to support research in areas where there are gaps (e.g. molecular pathologists).
  • Ensuring recruitment of new researchers fits within the research themes of clinical trials and translational research.
  • Ensuring collection of blood and tissue samples is part of all clinical trials.
  • Establishing a plan for leadership excellence in translational research (including but not limited to the IND program). This will include but not be limited to, collaboration with researchers at McMaster (e.g. imaging, stem cell biology, haemostasis).
  • Ensuring that there is a strong link between the Department and the OICR.
  • Establishing a cohesive plan for health services research in knowledge translation and improving quality of care.

Objective 3

To provide clinical investigators with sufficient protected time to achieve research success.

This will be achieved by:

  • Advocating within the Department on the importance of research and the need for protected time.
  • Exploring alternate models for paying clinician investigators.
  • Development of endowed chairs.

Objective 4

To enact excellent research throughout the Department by attracting and recruiting promising young investigators.

This will be achieved by:

  • Establishing priorities for recruitment that fit the research direction of the Department.
  • Ensuring that recruits are of the highest quality with the appropriate training and skill set.
  • Communicating that the Department is "the place" to be for research.

Objective 5

To create an environment that will enable young investigators to develop their research careers.

This will be achieved by:

  • Providing each young investigator with a mentor(s) who will help him/her to achieve success.
  • Providing training for clinical investigators.
  • Ensuring each young investigator is part of a critical mass of researchers.
  • Establishing biostatistical and methodology resources for researchers.
  • Creating a monthly "research-in-progress seminar series" which allows a researcher to receive feedback on a research question or on existing research; and which serves as a vehicle for multidisciplinary exchange of ideas and collaborations.

Objective 6

To support the ongoing development of mid-career investigators.

This will be achieved by:

  • Ensuring that these researchers are part of a critical mass of researchers.
  • Establishing biostatistical and methodology resources for researchers.
  • Creating a monthly "research-in-progress seminar series" which allows a researcher to receive feedback on a research question or on existing research; and which serves as a vehicle for multidisciplinary exchange of ideas and collaborations.

Objective 7

To bring cancer researchers together into a common structure.

This will be achieved by:

  • Creating opportunities for researchers to meet and exchange ideas.
  • Developing a functional plan for a Cancer Research Institute on the Henderson/JCC campus.
  • Collaborative and orderly transitioning of existing Henderson Research Centre researchers to the new research institute at the Hamilton General and the recruitment and relocation of cancer researchers to the new facility.

Objective 8

To promote and develop funding models that support faculty in engaging in academic activity, stable research programs and provide a dependable revenue stream to sustain the Department.

This will be achieved by:

  • Establishing an agreement with the recently integrated Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and JCC Foundations to provide an agreed upon amount annually (e.g. $ 1 million).
  • Creating an agreement with McMaster University to make cancer research chairs for the Department a priority in their fundraising campaign.
  • Working with the Foundation to tap funds to support endowed research chairs.
  • Seeking external sources of funding (e.g. CFI, CIHR, NCIC, OICR, NIH).

Broader Scope:

Objective 1

To develop excellence in cancer research through active networking and collaboration with other McMaster University departments, schools, disciplines, cancer researchers (e.g. Centre for Gene Therapies, Program in Evidence-based Care, CHEPA, Population Health, Vascular Biology, Engineering) and social scientists.

This will be achieved by:

  • Actively creating opportunities for dialogue and collaboration across disciplines with other investigators.
  • Establishing a research advisory committee to the Chair.
  • Creating a quarterly multidisciplinary joint oncology research round.
  • Producing a quarterly newsletter about McMaster cancer research.
  • Granting cross appointments to researchers in other departments.

Objective 2

To develop excellence in cancer research through active networking and collaboration with other researchers outside of Hamilton.

This will be achieved by:

  • Participating in OICR programs.
  • Taking leadership roles in OICR programs.
  • Maintaining strong links with NCIC, NCI (US), CIHR, CBCRA, ASCO and other cooperative cancer groups.
  • Granting cross appointments to researchers from other universities.

Summary

The opportunity to bring cancer researchers together in new and exciting ways in order to advance knowledge is greatly facilitated by the establishment of the new Department of Oncology. The first strategic plan for research in the new Department will be critical in setting the direction and priorities for research as well as creating a challenging and supportive environment of inquiry and dialogue for both seasoned young investigators and seasoned faculty. By setting clear objectives with associated strategies for achieving these objectives, and by engaging all faculty as active participants, this strategic plan will help position both research and the Department as a whole for success.

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