Lab Canada

Pandemic influenza vaccines the focus of new $11M research network

Toronto, ON – A new national influenza research network has been created that will focus on pandemic vaccine evaluation. The federal government says the network will strengthen Canada’s capacity to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a pandemic influenza vaccine and vaccination programs.

The network was created through a partnership between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It will be led by Dr Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax, and will link over 80 scientists from 30 research and public health institutions across the country.

The network will provide a pan-Canadian coordinating mechanism for conducting applied public health research that will help governments and the public health community prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. Network scientists will:

– test methodologies for the performance of rapid clinical trials,
– assess the safety and immunogenicity of a novel pandemic influenza vaccine,
– provide population-based estimates of vaccine safety and effectiveness,
– measure vaccine coverage, and
– facilitate the rapid implementation of pandemic influenza vaccine programs

“Canada is fortunate to have a strong community of internationally-recognized infectious disease researchers,” says Dr Alain Beaudet, president of CIHR. “Through the leadership of Dr. Bhagirath Singh, scientific director of CIHR’s Institute of Infection and Immunity, and in close collaboration with PHAC, CIHR has moved swiftly to mobilize this group of highly dedicated researchers to respond to the current flu outbreak.”

“This flu network speaks to the very core of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s mandate to protect Canadians from the threat of emerging diseases,” says Dr David Butler Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, “Supporting this initiative in partnership with CIHR gives us all an ideal mechanism to learn more about influenza in Canada and how to improve our responses to current and future outbreaks.”

At the same time, funding was announced to support the work of two national pandemic outbreak research teams:

– Dr Guy Boivin at Université Laval and his team will work with a national team to track the evolution of the H1N1 flu virus, evaluate its susceptibility to antiviral drugs, and identify new potential therapeutic compounds to combat viral resistance.

– Dr Babak Pourbohloul at the University of British Columbia and his team will work with the Canadian Consortium for Pandemic Preparedness Modelling to create mathematical models to rapidly analyze the transmission and spread of the influenza virus and evaluate the effectiveness of various public health intervention strategies.

The work of these teams will help public health officials across Canada in their efforts to plan, design and evaluate interventions to address the virus and protect the health of Canadians. These teams are funded through CIHR’s pandemic preparedness strategic research initiative, and they were pre-selected through a competitive, peer-review process conducted by CIHR.

The federal government says total funding of $10.8 million over three years has been allocated for the network and the two projects.