New funding of $5.1 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), announced on November 16, by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, will help researchers Marcel Behr, MD, PhD, and Silvia Vidal, PhD, ensure that Canada is better prepared for the next pandemic. This funding is part of the more than $127 million investment being made through the CFI to support upgrades to eight biocontainment facilities across the country as part of its new Biosciences Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF) program.
The investments received under the BRIF program will enable expansion of the research capacity of Containment Level 3 (CL3) laboratories at McGill and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). These labs are equipped to study Risk Group 3 (RC3) pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2. The funds will enable the acquisition of new infrastructure and facilitate the training of the next generation of infectious disease research specialists.
“Preparing for the next pandemic means building the capacity to safely and securely study the pathogenic microorganisms that cause epidemic and pandemic diseases,” says Dr. Behr, senior scientist in the RI-MUHC’s Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health (IDIGH) Program and Director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4). “This new funding ensures that our CL3 facilities will be better equipped for the study of Risk Group 3 pathogens, which include the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Tuberculosis (TB), and emerging infections such as H5N1 and H7N9.”
In announcing the funding, CFI President and CEO Roseann O’Reilly Runte, notes that, “The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the importance of cutting-edge research in infectious diseases. Ensuring labs meet standards and are well equipped to combat new challenges in biosciences will contribute to a healthy future for Canadians.”
“Demand for CL3 facilities spiked with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to rise,” adds McGill Professor Vidal , who is also an investigator in the IDIGH program at the RI-MUHC. “In both our CL3 locations, McGill and RI-MUHC investigators, affiliated collaborators, and external companies are working on a range of projects to learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other Risk Group 3 pathogens. This funding will allow our facilities to safely and effectively support the large number of high quality studies that are being proposed.”
Next generation of researchers
In presenting their proposal for funding, the researchers also emphasized the importance of training the next generation of researchers in microbiology, immunology and the expertise needed to work in CL3 laboratories.
“We will develop the next generation of highly qualified personnel, including investigators to characterize the next pandemic virus; technologists to test new drugs; the skilled personnel to evaluate new vaccines; and the facility personnel to ensure that the labs are safe, with pathogens contained and findings disseminated to the public and private stakeholders,” says Dr. Behr.