The Short Report, April 28, 2020: Alarming drop in donations for health charities; Health Canada approves COVID-19 clinical trial; and more

Health charities are seeing an “alarming” drop in donations, which they warn will compromise the health of Canadians living with chronic disease. HealthPartners, a collaboration of 16 Canadian charities, released the findings in its report, The Impact of COVID-19 on our Most Vulnerable Canadians. In response to declining donations, the report says health charities have laid off staff, in some cases 30-45%, and postponed or cancelled clinical research and trials. The Canadian Cancer Society, for example, is estimating losses of $100 million this year. HealthPartners has written to prime minister Justin Trudeau asking for financial assistance. – HealthPartners

Vancouver-based SaNOtize Research and Development Corp. has received Health Canada approval to begin a multi-centre Phase II trial for front-line antiviral prevention and early treatment for use against COVID-19. Lab tests conducted by Utah-based Institute for Antiviral Research found that SaNOtize’s patented Nitric Oxide Releasing Solution (NORSTM) is over 99.9% effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The results were produced within two minutes. The goal is to produce ready-to-use, inexpensive and rapidly-scalable applications delivered through gargle solutions, nasal spray and nasal lavage. – SaNOtize

The University of Toronto will support 31 research projects through the new $8.4-million Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund. The projects were chosen based on their potential to have a positive impact on individuals, communities and public health systems within a timeframe of a year or less. They were selected from among 338 applicants via a fast-tracked, peer-reviewed competition. Less than 30 days elapsed between the creation of the fund and the winning projects being announced. – U of T

Stem Cell Network (SCN) is providing $675,000 for three COVID-19 research projects, which will be matched by more than $778,000 in partner funding. The projects, which include one clinical trial and two research projects led by the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and The Hospital for Sick Children, are part of SCN’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Initiative that was launched April 1. The additional funding for SCN was announced April 23 as part of the federal government’s $1.1-billion investment in a national medical and research strategy to fight COVID-19. The projects will begin by mid-May. – SCN

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has launched a new funding stream as part of its Council’s College and Community Innovation Program – Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19. Colleges and polytechnics can receive up to $75,000 for one year, and must address topics of immediate relevance to the COVID-19 outbreak. Projects can assist industry (e.g. prototyping, enhanced production processes, data analytics) or community challenges (e.g. impact of social isolation on vulnerable populations, addressing mental health impacts of COVID-19). – NSERC

The Canadian Wheat Research Coalition (CWRC) and the Canadian Barley Research Coalition (CBRC) are urging Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to continue farmer-funded wheat and barley research activities at AAFC’s western Canadian research stations in 2020. “We are facing an unprecedented situation with respect to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety of researchers and other staff is our top priority,” said CWRC chair Jason Lenz. “The universities and private plant breeders have found safe options to conduct their research. We’re confident AAFC can also create a plan to continue critical research and provide clarity to western Canadian farmers.” – Yorkton This Week

A new report from the Public Policy Forum, titled New North Star II, details how Canadian policymakers can navigate a new course in industrial strategy, one that builds both on its past innovation strengths and current economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Building off of last year’s seminal report on the rise of the Intangibles Economy, PPF’s newest contribution to Canada’s economic conversation proposes an industrial plan to “rebuild Canada” post COVID-19. A plan that should be starting not in two years, but in a few months,” says Sean Speers, one of the report’s authors. – Public Policy Forum

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre in Ottawa has launched an online survey to examine the psychological, social, and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic at various stages of the outbreak. University of Ottawa researcher Dr. Rebecca Robillard is leading the study in collaboration with scientists with hospitals and universities in Ontario and Quebec. – The Royal

Montreal-based BrainBox AI has raised $12 million to further deploy its artificial intelligence technology for buildings across North America and abroad. BrainBox AI’s solution, which combines deep learning, cloud-based computing and autonomous decision making, enables the HVAC system in a building to operate autonomously, in real-time, generating up to a 25% reduction in total energy costs, a 20-40% reduction in carbon footprint and a 60% increase in occupant comfort. The financing round was led by Desjardins Capital. – BrainBox AI

United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Ltd. (UFA) and Zone Startups Calgary (ZSC) have partnered to support early-stage agriculture technology companies with technical and commercial validation. ZSC will identify tech companies that can address UFA and its customer’s innovation challenges, as well as provide agricultural technology companies with access to market, commercialization programming, and support. – GlobeNewsWire


The federal government has established a new COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to provide decision-makers with the data they need to understand the impact of the disease on vulnerable populations, while also leveraging new and existing lab capacity for research. The task force will operate under the direction of a leadership group tasked with establishing priorities and overseeing the coordination of a series of serological surveys (blood tests) to detect the presence of virus-specific antibodies. The task force will be supported by an external secretariat, led Dr. Tim Evans, director of the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University. The leadership group includes: Dr. David Naylor, co-chair (former president, University of Toronto); Dr. Catherine Hankins, co-chair (Professor of Public and Population Health at McGill University); Dr. Tim Evans; Dr. Theresa Tam (Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer); and Dr. Mona Nemer (Canada’s chief science advisor). – GoC

Dr. Lesley Rigg will take over as VP (Research) at Western University on August 1. The five-year term also includes her appointment as professor of geography. Rigg is currently dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary. Previously she served in progressively senior roles at Northern Illinois University, including VP (Research). – Western News

University of Toronto doctoral candidate Tej Heer has joined the not-for-profit Evidence for Democracy as a senior research associate. Heer is currently finishing his PhD in physical and environmental sciences at the U of T’s Scarborough campus. His duties include updating E4D’s 2017 Oversight at Risk report on science capacity and integrity in the BC government, evaluating transparency in the development of federal government policies, and studying potential policy and regulatory solutions to minimize the harm of misinformation on our democracy. – E4D

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, scientific director and CEO of the Stem Cell Network, has been named a Fellow of the Royal Society national academy of sciences in the UK. Rudnicki was one of 10 foreign members elected this year. – Stem Cell Network