The Short Report, March 18, 2020: Canadian researchers take first steps to a COVID-19 vaccine, University of Alberta announces drastic cuts, and more

Mark Mann
March 18, 2020

Canadian innovation hubs are closing their doors and instituting work-from-home policies to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Invest Ottawa, MaRS Discovery District, Communitech, and OneEleven in Ontario have imposed restrictions, along with Volta in Atlantic Canada. Many, like Montreal's Founder Institute and Startup Edmonton, are moving their programming online, offering webinars and virtual meetups to replace their public events. - BetaKit

Alberta Health Services has developed an online self-assessment tool to help people check their symptoms for signs of COVID-19. After going live on March 13, the tool has already been used over a million times. Alberta is sharing the code with other provinces who want to make their own versions, including Yukon, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and Ontario, as well as the Canadian Armed Forces; British Columbia and Saskatchewan have already followed suit. - Globe and Mail

A team of researchers in Toronto has isolated and grown copies of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolating the virus is an essential step in developing treatments, vaccines and tests for the virus. "We need key tools to develop solutions to this pandemic,” said Dr. Samira Mubareka in a statement. “While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus." The team is made up of scientists from Sunnybrook Hospital, McMaster University and the University of Toronto. - CTV News,

Father and daughter researchers Alyson Kelvin (39) and David Kelvin (65), from Halifax, are both working on solutions to COVID-19.  A virologist working at Dalhousie University, Alyson has been seconded to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre in Saskatoon to test vaccines in lab animals, while David, a Dalhousie professor, is working on a portable test kit to identify the severity of the illness for people who test positive for the virus. Alyson says that the pursuit of infectious disease solutions is a family passion. - National Observer

The University of Alberta eliminated 400 positions and could cut another 600 in the coming year, due to government funding reductions. "Over the last four months we have received a reduction in government funding in the order of $110 million," university president David Turpin said at a news conference. "We are restructuring programs, we are focusing on administrative savings, we are changing our academic programming — last year alone we cancelled 30 programs and there will be more coming."  The cuts are part of a 20 percent reduction in funding for Alberta's 26 postsecondary institutions over the next three years. - CBC

California higher-ed tech company Raftr is offering its messaging and notifications platform free to colleges and universities, to ease disruption and dislocation as a result of COVID-19 concerns. The service enables immediate communication between universities and their students, faculty, and staff. The company is making the service available free of charge until July 1, 2020. - Financial Post

The University of Toronto and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) are partnering to create an entrepreneurship program to strengthen ties between the innovation ecosystems in Canada and India. A key component of U of T's new Entrepreneurship Centre in Mumbai, the program will offer exchange opportunities for new entrepreneurs, support research collaborations and develop a two-way innovation talent pipeline. - U of T

The Government of Québec will give $15 million in funding over five years to the Institute national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) to support scientific research collaboration between five schools in the Université du Québec network, in Chicoutimi, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Rimouski, Outaouais and Trois-Rivières. The funding will focus on research in strategic sectors, including advanced materials, health, and cybersecurity. - UQuebec

Ben Spigel from the University of Edinburgh Business School and Tara Vinodrai from the University of Toronto have published a research paper on the ‘recycling’ of people, capital, and ideas in Waterloo after the decline of Blackberry in 2008. The authors found that "alumni of this firm engaged in very little high-growth entrepreneurship, instead entering the ecosystem as technology employees at high-growth scale-up firms." - Taylor & Francis Online

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) has released a new Call for Proposals for Assessments by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), in order to identify up to four assessment topics that the CCA will tackle, starting in April 2021. The deadline for government departments to send their assessment topic ideas to ISED is March 30. - CCA


Mary Wells has been named the University of Waterloo's next Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. Currently serving as Dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Guelph, Wells is an accomplished materials engineer and recognized both for her strategic leadership and her work in attracting, engaging and retaining women in the engineering industry. Wells previously spent ten years as a faculty member in the University of Waterloo's mechanical and mechatronics engineering department, where she chaired the Women in Engineering committee for many years. She was Chair of the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering from 2013 to 2018. - U Waterloo

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