The Short Report, March 25, 2020: Tech CEOs implore Ottawa to protect their industry, the NGEN supercluster commits $50M to scaling up production of supplies to fight COVID-19, and more

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research launched a new COVID-19 funding opportunity for operating grants called the “COVID-19 Clinical Epidemiology Research Rapid Response.” The application deadline is this Friday, March 27, and successful applicants will be notified of the decision on April 1. The competition description emphasizes the viruses “many unknown epidemiological parameters, particularly with respect to the Canadian context,” and states that research is needed to “mobilize existing Canadian surveillance networks for timely, detailed, and systematic collection and analysis of epidemiological and laboratory data.” Such data-gathering will “inform Canada’s public health emergency response to COVID-19.” – CIHR

More than 200 tech CEOs have banded together to appeal to the federal government to do more to protect the sector from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tech industry drives 17 percent of the nation’s GDP and employs 11 percent of the population, they write in an open letter to ministers Bill Morneau, Navdeep Bains and Mary Ng, and “many promising new ventures that are tackling everything from climate change to cancer treatment may be forced to close their doors” due to the disruption. They offer a detailed list of proposals, including pre-payment of funding for approved projects and suspension of all employee income tax for six months. – MaRS

Apart from the $52.6 million for extramural research at universities, including $25 million from the $275 million for research included in Trudeau’s billion-dollar COVID-19 stimulus plan, the prime minister announced the details of the remaining funding for research. Biotech firms Abcellera and Medicago will share $192 million from the new Strategic Innovation Fund COVID-19 stream; the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) will receive $11 million “to strengthen its existing expertise in coronavirus research and to help develop a vaccine for COVID-19”; the National Research Council of Canada will receive $15 million to upgrade its Human Health Therapeutics facility in Montreal for developing, testing and scaling-up vaccine candidates; and the government will use Toronto-based digital health firm BlueDot‘s global early warning technology for infectious diseases to support modelling and monitoring of COVID-19’s spread over time. – Prime Minister’s Office

The Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGEN) supercluster will invest $50 million to support companies that are rapidly responding to the need for essential equipment, products, and therapeutics in the fight against COVID-19. Projects will be selected for funding according to critical needs identified by the Government of Canada and the ability of manufacturers to produce products that are safe for both patients and health care workers. – NGEN

Canadian scientists have started a petition to Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in Canada. Started by Tara Moriarty, a professor in the faculty of dentistry at the University of Toronto, the petition states that a critical barrier to increased testing is the shortage of trained personnel, as well as problems with shortages of key equipment and supplies. While Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory is working to ensure additional testing capacity, “highly skilled scientists outside this system are prohibited from lending assistance.” Among other things, the petition asks the federal government to “allow for a temporary relaxation of regulations such that established research or industry labs can perform COVID-19 testing under the full supervision and control of public testing labs, with all required quality assurance and privacy protection measures.” –

Also at the University of Toronto, the Pathogen Intravital Imaging Laboratory, or Moriarty Lab, is signing up volunteer Canadian scientists who possess the skills to support COVID-19 testing in public health labs. – Twitter

CIFAR announced it is taking immediate action in the global response to COVID-19 by 1) working with governments to provide advice on AI applications for COVID-19-related R&D; 2) launching funding for collaborative research projects on AI and COVID-19 through its Catalyst Grants; and 3) convening interdisciplinary groups of experts who can work together on relevant research collaborations. – CIFAR

Ottawa is offering a six-month loan holiday on federal student loan payments. Enrollment in the program is automatic. The National Student Loan Service Centre said the pause on payments and interest accumulation takes effect Mar. 30 and will last until Sept. 30, the CBC has reported. Employment minister Carla Qualtrough said the repayment break could be extended if necessary. – CBC


Pari Johnston joined Genome Canada as Vice-President, Policy and Public Affairs on March 23. In the role, Johnston will provide expertise and leadership to shape and support the strategic direction of Genome Canada and work to raise awareness of the organization among stakeholders. “Now more than ever, we need science-based solutions to the major health, social and economic issues facing Canadians and the world,” she said in the announcement. Johnston held senior leadership positions at Universities Canada for twenty years, including as Vice-President, Policy and Public Affairs. – Genome Canada

Dr. William A. Ghali was appointed vice-president of research at the University of Calgary for a five-year term on March 1. Ghali is the scientific director of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at UCalgary and a physician in the Cumming School of Medicine. Ghali’s research has focused on evaluating and improving health system performance for better patient outcomes and improved efficiency, for which he has been awarded millions in grant funding from various agencies. He has published more than 420 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He is a fellow of both the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada, as well as co-director of the University of Calgary World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Disease Classifications and Health Information. – UCalgary