Canada Joins International Team of Coronavirus Researchers

Canada Joins International Team of Coronavirus Researchers
U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario "Charo" Gutierrez

On April 22nd, The University of Ottawa has gathered its top medical and social sciences researchers to help in Canada’s rapid research response program in the battle against the coronavirus, named COVID-19.

The Government of Canada has set aside almost $27 million in medical, social and policy research to aid in its efforts to contain the disease. 

Although many countries had plans for a global epidemic response ready, almost all were caught off guard by the surge in coronavirus cases, the spread of which was aided by the globalized economy and ease of travel between countries. Currently, the virus has no antiviral treatment, although several experimental drugs are being used to mitigate its effects. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also allocated $1.1 billion for coronavirus vaccine research and testing, reports Global News. This adds over $800 million to the already substantial research grant of $275 million which the Liberal government had budgeted for pandemic research at the beginning of the outbreak in March.

On February 14, the Government of Canada began selecting candidates for its Rapid Research program to fight COVID-19. This effort aimed to align with Canada’s international partners like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) as well as individual countries that were contributing to the research effort.

According to the University of Ottawa, five of their researchers were ultimately selected to spearhead Canada’s response and lead teams of specialists dedicated to a specific pandemic reduction task:

  • Maxim Berezovski is a professor of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences and heads the Bioanalytical and Molecular Interaction Laboratory. He will lead a team of chemists, infectious disease specialists and chemical diagnosticians with the goal of finding a low cost way to perform coronavirus tests. A Russian-born medical specialist, he received his master’s degree in biochemistry from the Novosibirsk State University in 1994. He later immigrated to Canada and dedicated his studies towards biochemistry and medicine.  Professor Berezovski was chosen to lead the University of Ottawa’s and Canada’s efforts against the pandemic and coordinate with other partner countries on the coronavirus effort.
  • Patrick Fafard is a professor of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the associate director of the Global Strategy Lab, and an expert on public health policy. He and his team will research methods on how to improve intragovernmental communication regarding health advice. He will also assess how the public receives and to which extent it trusts information from the government. Professor Fafard’s research will ultimately be used to mitigate pandemics and better prepare citizens.
  • Ronald Labonté is a professor of the School of Epidemiology and Public Health and a specialist in international governance of infectious diseases. He is also a former Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Health Equity, a position which has given him experience to tackle the current crisis. He will study the extent to which Canada and other countries heed WHO’s advice. He will have the goal of helping to create a national evidence-based public health response strategy and enhance international coordination against the pandemic.
  • Kumanan Wilson is a professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital and an innovation advisor at the Bruyere Research Institute. He and his team will be tasked with evaluating Canada’s role in the global pandemic response, including analyzing Canada’s preparedness and reaction, and how well the government complied with international health regulations.
  • Marc-André Langlois is a professor in the School of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology and the director of the CL2+ Biocontainment Laboratory. As a specialist in molecular virology, he will lead a team of multidisciplinary experts in developing genetically engineered antibodies for use as therapeutic agents with the goal of limiting the spread of coronavirus, as well as create a diagnostic tool for use in various situations and the development of a low-cost plant-based nasal spray vaccine. 

Professor Maxim Berezovski and the University of Ottawa specialists will be joining an international effort led by Russia, whose task will be researching measures to fight COVID-19 and maximizing international coordination efforts. The effort so far consists of Russia, Canada, Finland and Italy, and has access to Russia’s RSC Tornado supercomputer – which will help scientists model the virus and simulate treatment strategies.

As stated by the Financial Post, the University of Ottawa will be joining a worldwide team of multidisciplinary specialists, including:

Canada’s pick of Dr Maxim Berezovski is strengthening international cooperation with Russia to fight COVID-19. Berezovski’s Russian background and his connections to the Russian research community most probably paved the way for Canada to join this Russian-led effort. This work may also bolster Russian-Canadian scientific ties, as well as those between the other participating countries in the long-run. 

As of April 23rd, Russia has confirmed 4774 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 62773, up from 27938 on April 17th. After a lax few months with little effort to contain the outbreak in Russia, there has been a massive surge in new cases centred around Russia’s capital Moscow. President Putin initially donated medical ventilators to the United States at the beginning of the month, however now the Russian government says that it may accept the offer of American ventilators and other medical supplies “if necessary”, reports the New York Post.

According to the Government of Canada’s official statistics, the nation has also seen a large number of confirmed coronavirus cases focused in the heavily populated eastern provinces, with Quebec having 21838 infections as of April 23rd. This puts Quebec as the most affected province, with more than half of Canada’s confirmed 42110 coronavirus infections.

As opposed to Russia, Canada and the provincial governments got a head-start by issuing an early order to self-isolate and distance themselves from others, as well as Prime Minister Trudeau’s use of expert advisors in his national response plan.

The two countries have a lot to gain from international scientific cooperation with regards to the coronavirus and national response strategies, as some provincial response plans have drastically reduced the spread of the virus. Both countries also have a lot of scientific expertise that may aid other international partners in their own coronavirus efforts. Along with Italy and Finland, as well as other potential research partners, this research coalition may be able to develop and deploy treatments or a cure far faster than individual national research efforts. 

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