The Short Report – June 3, 2020: SSHRC and NSERC announce new grant winners; ScaleAI supporting 10 university chairs; DND launches COVID-19 challenges; and more…

Debbie Lawes
June 2, 2020

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council awarded $75 million to more than 1,600 researchers from over 60 universities across Canada. More than $60 million will go for partnership projects and $14 million will support 160 postdoctoral researchers. Out of the total number of recipients, 760 (56%) self-identify as women, 48 (4%) as Indigenous, 158 (12%) as a member of a visible minority and 109 (8%) as having a disability. – SSHRC

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will provide over $9 million for 86 science promotion and outreach programs that engage and inspire young Canadians to develop their STEM skills. NSERC’s PromoScience program recipients will lead camps, classroom workshops, makerspaces, online learning programs and more. – NSERC

The Scale AI supercluster is investing $10 million to support the creation of at least 10 university chairs dedicated to artificial intelligence across the country, doubling a matching amount contributed by universities, for a total of $20 million. The new chairs are a key to Scale AI’s talent development strategy. Several large tech companies are hiring top AI professors on a full or part-time basis, which is creating a problem for universities that need these experts to train future AI students, professors and researchers. – Scale AI

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) is investing $5 million in Precision Biomonitoring, Guelph ON, to support the company’s production of test kits to identify COVID-19. The funding will enable the company to work with Canadian manufacturers to rapidly increase production of its SARS-CoV-2 Go-Strips to 10,000 or more units a day. Precision Biomonitoring’s partners include Evik Diagnostics, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Shared Value Solutions, McMaster Health Science Centre, Sunnybrook Health Science Centre and the Canadian National Microbiology Lab. – GlobeNewswire

Quebec has launched a new call for proposals under its Fonds d’accélération des collaborations en santé (FACS). Grants between $5 million and $10 million per project will be awarded to initiatives that support small- and medium-sized enterprises in the province’s life sciences sector. Industrial partners will be expected to provide matching funds. – Government of Quebec

L'Institut quantique (IQ) at Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS) is joining the IBM Q Network as an IBM Q Hub, the first such computing hub in Canada and one of several worldwide. The Quebec government has provided $4.5 million to the initiative, which will allow UdeS to greatly expand its quantum computing capacity while giving members exclusive cloud-based access to IBM's advanced quantum computing systems and software. The global IBM Q Network is a collaboration between IBM and Fortune 500 companies, national research labs, startups, and leading universities to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for science and business. The Quebec hub’s first member is CMC Microsystems. – UdeS

Concordia University has approved three new faculty research centres: the Indigenous Futures Research Centre (Director: Jason Lewis), the Security Research Centre (Director: Mourad Debbabi) and the Thermal Spray and Surface Engineering Research Centre (Co-directors: Christian Moreau and Ali Dolatabadi). – Concordia University

The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board has announced that it will delay a July 1 deadline for implementing amendments designed to lower the price of patented drugs. The new regulations will now come into effect January 2021, and a new draft of the regulations will be published later in June. Innovative Medicines Canada last month asked the federal government to delay the reforms, calling it a “distraction” at a time when the industry is preoccupied with the COVID-19 crisis. While the decision was lauded by big pharma, some patient advocacy groups and federal opposition Conservatives, it was criticized by former federal Health Minister Jane Philpott who tweeted, “This is painful and expensive. I announced these plans on May 16, 2017. It should not take almost 4 years to implement.” – iPolitics


Trusscore, a Kitchener ON-based material science company, has raised $5.33 million in seed financing to accelerate R&D, marketing and sales of sustainable building materials. The company’s marketing and R&D teams are based at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener with manufacturing plants in Palmerston, ON and Dayton, OH. The investors include serial entrepreneurs and construction executives, as well as family and friends of the company. – Trusscore

Bast Fibre Technologies Inc., a Victoria BC-based natural fibre engineering firm focussed on the nonwovens industry, has raised $4.4 million in equity financing, led by Lightburn Group and Natural Products Canada, a federally funded Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research. The funding will help the four-year old company file additional intellectual property and build out a dedicated vast fibre processing facility which will produce fibres from hemp and other crops for a variety of products, including disinfecting wipes, personal care wipes and makeup removers. – NPC

Ottawa startup Spiderwort has closed $2.5 million USD in a seed financing to further its biomaterial research. The funding round, led by Horizon Ventures, will help Spiderwort continue advancing towards clinical trials of new biomaterials that use plant-derived scaffolding to create a framework for real tissue to grow. Potential applications include spinal cord injury repair, soft tissue replacement/reconstruction, and cell and plant-based meats and food products. The company also recently moved into a new biotechnology research facility at Collège La Cité in Ottawa. – Spiderwort

A new online initiative sponsored by the CIHR Centre for REACH 3.0 and the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) seeks to end the stigma that inhibits Canada’s progress to reaching its goal to end the HIV epidemic by 2025. The Positive Effect – collaboratively designed by scientists, medical experts, community leaders and people living with HIV in Canada – will connect the facts and evidence with people’s lived experiences to correct the misinformation and fear that underlies and perpetuates stigma. – CANFAR

York University’s School of Continuing Studies has launched Canada’s “first and only” continuing education blockchain programs, in response to high demand from employers for skilled workers. Demand for blockchain developers has increased by 374% in the Greater Toronto Area over the past two years, with demand rising further with the onset of COVID-19 and physical distancing measures. The part-time Certificate in Blockchain Development and the full-time Post-Graduate Certificate in Back-End and Blockchain Development will begin in September. – Newswire


The Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program has launched three COVID-19-related challenges as part of a multi-departmental initiative seeking innovative solutions to help fight the pandemic. The science and technology challenges are: rapid response: real time insights for pandemic decision-making; scrubbing your scrubs: finding ways to re-use COVID-19 protective year; and, super sanitize: cleaning sensitive equipment and workspaces. Successful projects will be funded up to $200,000. The second phase of the program will provide up to $1 million per project. An information webinar will be held June 11 for interested applicants. – DND

Calgary-based Resverlogix Corp. is moving forward with plans to launch a clinical trial to test whether a proven cardiovascular drug is effective in treating patients with COVID-19. First, researchers will investigate whether apabetalone – a small molecule, bromodomain and extraterminal domain (BET) inhibitor – can disrupt the replication cycle of the virus. This will be followed with an open-label study to assess the safety and efficacy of hospitalized patients using apabetalone orally. – Resverlogix

A Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Strategic Network based at Concordia University is promoting antiviral metallic and ceramic coatings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Researchers at the Surface Engineering for Advanced Manufacturing (Green-SEAM) Network have spent the past five years optimizing next-generation coatings, including copper and titanium oxide sprays which can kill bacteria and viruses on various surfaces, including plastic and steel. The network has partners that can accommodate large-scale production as well as custom surfaces applications. – Concordia University


Innovation, Science and Industry minister Navdeep Bains has announced the names of business leaders who will join former Desjardin Group president Monique Leroux on the new Industry Strategy Council. Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO, AGT Food and Ingredients (agri-food sector); John Baker, president and CEO, D2L Corporation (digital industries sector); Rhonda Barnet, president and COO, AVIT Manufacturing (advanced manufacturing sector); Paviter Binning, president, Wittington Investments, Limited (retail sector); Ben Cowan-Dewar, co-founder and CEO, Cabot Links (tourism and hospitality sector); Karimah Es Sabar, CEO and partner, Quark Venture (health and biosciences sector); Karen Hamberg, VP of external Affairs and Sustainability, Westport Fuel Systems Inc. (clean technology sector); Mark Little, president and CEO, Suncor Energy Inc. (resources of the future sector); and, Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO, Montreal Port Authority (transportation sector). Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, joins as an ex-officio member to provide an important perspective on science and research. – GoC

The New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) has enlisted executive recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson to search for an inaugural CEO. Launched this spring, NDRIO received $375-million over five years from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to implement Canada’s $500-million DRI strategy and to bring all investments in advanced research computing, research software and research data management under one organization. Its founding members comprise more than 135 post-secondary institutions, research hospitals, institutes and established DRI organizations. – NDRIO

Blake Hutcheson became both president and CEO of OMERS on June 1. Hutcheson, most recently OMERS president and chief pension officer, succeeds Michael Latimer as CEO. Hutcheson previously served as president and CEO of Oxford Properties Group from 2010 to June of 2018. – OMERS

Dr. Miguel N. Burnier Jr. will take over as interim executive director and chief scientific officer (CSO) of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), effective June 15, 2020. He succeeds Dr. Bruce Mazer. Burnier is currently director of training and development and a senior scientist in the Cancer Research Program at the RI-MUHC, a full professor of ophthalmology, pathology, medicine and oncology at McGill, and the founder and director of the MUHC-McGill Ocular Pathology Translational Research Laboratory. A process to select a permanent executive director and CSO will be announced shortly. – MUHC

Dr. Robert Wood has been named interim vice-president (research) at the University of Lethbridge. Wood has served as dean at the university for nearly a decade, first as the dean of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, and more recently as the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. Wood’s research interests span the areas of social problems, youth culture, addiction and the sociocultural aspects of problem gambling. – University of Lethbridge

Douglas Tyndall Wright, the University of Waterloo’s third president and vice-chancellor, as well as its founding dean of engineering, died May 21. He was 92. Wright was Waterloo’s president and vice-chancellor from 1981 to 1993. During his tenure, he moved the university into a new level of applied knowledge, patents and technology transfer. – UWaterloo

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