Ontario Leading COVID-19 Research in Canada

Published on May 21, 2020

ELGIN-MIDDLESEX-LONDON— The Ontario government is quickly moving forward with innovative research to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19. These projects, part of the government's $20 million Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, focus on areas of research such as vaccine development, diagnostics, drug trials and development, and social sciences. Additionally, Ontario is leading the country with 22 clinical trials investigating COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Today's announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities.

"Ontario is leading the nation in the battle to defeat this deadly virus. We have some of the most incredible researchers and innovators anywhere in the world right here in our province," said Premier Ford. "There's no reason why a new rapid testing method, vaccine or treatment can't be found right here in Ontario. Our government is investing in some very promising research proposals, which have the potential to save lives and help us get back to a way of life that is as close to normal as possible."

The Ontario government is funding 15 high-quality and promising proposals that were submitted in response to a recent call for proposals for the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund. Announced only four weeks ago, the $20 million fund was created as an immediate response to engaging the research community on ways to fight COVID-19. Where relevant, a portion of these funds will be used to cover costs associated with licensing and commercialization, including patenting, of the valuable intellectual property generated by successful projects to ensure any economic outcomes from these proposals benefit Ontario's economy, workers and researchers.

 

London’s Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute are included in the program for the following projects:

 

  • Rapid Identification of Immunogenic and T-cell Epitopes to Enable Serologic Testing, Passive Immunotherapy, and Epitope Vaccine for COVID-19 
    Shawn Li, Principal Investigator 
    Western University

    To curb the COVID-19 outbreak caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, researchers are looking to solve three critical challenges as quickly as possible - detection, treatment, and vaccination. This project will address these challenges by developing a point-of-care blood test to identify infected individuals, including those without symptoms, devising strategies for the production of virus-neutralizing antibodies to treat the severely ill, and identifying viral epitopes to inform epitope-vaccine development. 

 

  • Food Retail Environment Surveillance for Health and Economic Resiliency: FRESHER Ontario 
    Jason Gilliland, Principal Investigator 
    Western University

    The Food Retail Environment Surveillance for Health & Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) project is a rapid response to the widespread closures of, and modified operating conditions for, many retail food outlets. The FRESHER project will examine the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 in Southwestern Ontario by identifying what businesses modified their operations, temporarily closed or permanently closed during the outbreak and how the outbreak has affected businesses and their employees. This study will help inform policies and programs that will maintain Ontario's food security, incentivize economic growth during the recovery period, and improve resiliency among businesses during future pandemics and emergencies. 

 

  • Clinical Research on the Therapeutic Benefits of Annexin A5 in Severe COVID-19 Patients 
    Claudio Martin, Principal Investigator 
    Lawson Health Research Institute

    There are currently no proven therapies to treat COVID-19. In the most severe cases, the disease is complicated by sepsis acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and multiorgan failure. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by the body's response to an infection. While the body normally releases chemicals to fight an infection, sepsis occurs when the body's response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering systemic inflammation that can damage multiple organs. Many critically ill COVID-19 patients develop sepsis 1-2 days before ARDS, suggesting that sepsis is a major contributor to the development of organ and respiratory failure. 

    This clinical trial will examine the effects of Annexin A5, in treating critically ill COVID-19 patients who develop sepsis. Annexin A5 is a human protein that has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic (cell death prevention) and moderate anticoagulant (blood clot prevention) properties. The ultimate goal of the trial is to use Annexin A5 to treat sepsis and prevent respiratory and multi-organ failure. 

 

"Researchers in Ontario represent some of the best and brightest in the country and we are tapping into their expertise to find Ontario-based solutions to treat the infection and stop the spread of the virus," said Minister Romano. "Our government is encouraged by the ideas and solutions researchers have put forward to-date. These projects will support Ontario's response to the COVID-19 outbreak and help us make smart and effective decisions as we look ahead to the future."

Many of Ontario's research hospitals, universities, colleges and research institutes are leading Canada with their ground-breaking COVID-19 research projects. Eleven of the 22 clinical trials that are being led by these institutions have already secured the necessary approvals by Health Canada to advance potential vaccines and therapeutics. Ontario also has the largest share of the total 25 clinical trials approved by Health Canada in the country.

"Research will not only play an important role in the fight against COVID-19, but it will also drive innovation and our economic recovery as we restart the province," said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. "This $20 million investment in our research sector will mean more made-in-Ontario solutions as we continue to fight this virus and move into the next phase of our recovery."

Ontario's research will expand the global understanding of COVID-19 and further the capacity in the health care, artificial intelligence, and supply chain sectors to assist frontline workers today and in the future.

"Research to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19 is a key component in our fight against the virus," said Minister Elliott. "These projects and clinical trials will contribute to both our local and global efforts to understand how COVID-19 is evolving and inform health system planning and the careful and gradual reopening of the provincial economy."

Quick Facts

  • These 15 proposals are the first to receive funding from the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, with additional projects expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Projects were evaluated by a peer review committee. The selection process for these types of projects typically takes up to eighteen weeks to complete. For these projects the selection process was shortened to two weeks while maintaining the same high-quality and independent process that leveraged the expertise of researchers to evaluate.
  • The government of Ontario is investing $20 million to support COVID-19 research by tapping into the expertise of Ontario’s colleges and universities, research institutions and non-profit scientific partners. Funding was announced as part of Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.
  • The Ontario government received a positive response from the research sector to the request for proposals for the Fund, with hundreds of eligible submissions.
  • To date, the Ontario Together portal has received donations of more than five million pieces of personal protective equipment and other supplies to protect frontline workers.
  • Over 54,000 users have visited the SPARK Ontario website to learn how they can volunteer, and over 3,500 civic-minded Ontarians from across the province have signed up on the site to volunteer.
  • Ontario is investing in artificial intelligence (AI) research through CIFAR to stop the spread of COVID-19. Throughout 2020, projects will identify early intervention strategies and effective treatments, support public health measures, and help improve our understanding of viral transmission and the mental health and social impacts of the virus.

 

Background Information

 

Additional Resources

  • Visit Ontario's website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19 or to take a self assessment.