Editorial: Fundamental Disconnect

By Len Monheit

I’m in the middle of attending a workshop here in Canada that has placed academia, government, associations, researchers, regulators and industry in the same room to discuss formation of a sector strategy for natural health products and functional foods. As one would expect, there are grossly differing points of views and perspectives on priorities being expressed. Also as expected, buzzwords such as stakeholders, collaboration and networks are being sprinkled about liberally at the same time as various individual agendas are vigorously pursued.

This is not the first time that I’ve attended a similar workshop or stakeholder meeting. I guess one of the bright spots is that in these busy times, at least all these parties are both willing and able to meet in the same room. Another bright spot is that there is at least an attempt to deal with turf and territory, ‘not invented here’ mentalities and at least try to achieve practical common ground. There is also growing recognition that in order to achieve true excellence, a strategy of deep versus wide must be employed so that talent is not stretched and diluted before practical gain and momentum can be achieved. At the same time, a mentality of fair access to capital pools, independent of merit or applicability of research prevails, and as an industry person with both a science and entrepreneurial background, this frustrates me no end.

The argument over basic versus applied research was expressed early and often. The attitude of ‘industry just should’ was evident from the outset. The gaps and disconnects, essentially language chasms, made a consensus in developing a sector strategy a non-starter right from the beginning. And with several communities vested heavily in the current system, can one expect too much too change?

From both an industry and research perspective, funding for research in this sector is inadequate. Coupling apparent redundancy in program scope with programs of limited commercial applicability, and certainly with limited commercial ‘vision’ seems to lack common sense.

And I’m certain that this phenomenon is not solely a Canadian export.

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