Lab Canada

SARS research receives three-pronged funding and organizational boost

Ottawa, ON June 11, 2003 The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has unveiled a three-part health research strategy on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The strategy includes funding of C$1.7 million to four research teams, funding of about $1 million to support related public-health research, and the creation of a research consortium to coordinate, promote and support Canadian research in the area.

Leaders of the four teams funded to a total of $1.7 million are:

– Dr Mark Loeb (McMaster University), whose team will work to improve our understanding of the diagnosis, clinical course, epidemiology and immunopathogenesis of SARS;

– Dr Danuta Skowronski (University of British Columbia), whose team will carry out research leading to the development of a vaccine for SARS;

– Dr James Dennis (Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and University of Toronto), whose team will examine methods to monitor infection and host response to the SARS virus; and

– Dr Michel Bergeron (Centre hospitalier de l’Universit Laval), whose team will pursue a rapid diagnostic test for SARS.

“These teams will help us answer some very important questions to be applied by the health care system to enhance protection of Canadians from SARS,” says Dr Bhagirath Singh, scientific director of CIHR’s Institute of Infection and Immunity and professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Ontario.

A partnership was formed to fund these four teams: CIHR’s Institute of Infection and Immunity, the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund, the Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics (CANVAC), Health Canada and Le Fonds de la recherche en sant du Qubec (FRSQ).

The $1 million in research funding is intended to allow researchers to examine and analyze public health and health care system preparedness and Canada’s response to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. The deadline for researchers to submit proposals for the request for applications (RFA) is July 31, 2003.

The RFA focuses on research questions regarding public health and health care systems. The information gained will allow public health and health care providers to respond optimally to future occurrences of SARS and other similar epidemics. The goals include the identification, analysis and study of the social, ethical, psychological, economic and other consequences of the SARS outbreak. Researchers will also evaluate the control and preventive measures taken to date.

"In dealing with any future outbreaks of this kind, we need to learn from the recent SARS experience," says Dr John Frank, scientific director of CIHR’s institute of population and public health. "A concerted effort is required to ensure that evidence-based practice, and cost-effective outbreak management strategies by public health and health care systems are utilized."

Finally, the Canadian SARS Research Consortium (CSRC) has been created to coordinate, promote and support Canadian research on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and newly emerging infectious diseases.

Sponsored by partners (outlined below), the CSRC is being coordinated by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and its Institute of Infection and Immunity as part of a comprehensive Canadian research strategy to answer questions about the causes, control and consequences of SARS.

The CSRC will be charged with the responsibility for developing and coordinating the implementation of a national research agenda on SARS in five broad research areas: diagnostics; vaccine development; therapeutics; epidemiology, and databases; and public health and community impact. Researchers will be asked to take into account work already in progress and identify gaps that must be addressed in order to create a coherent national research agenda.

In addition to developing research programs in these areas, the CSRC will be aided by a scientific advisory committee, co-chaired by experts in infectious disease and public health. Dr Brett Finlay, a CIHR distinguished investigator from the University of British Columbia and head of an international initiative to fast track the development of a SARS vaccine, and Dr Donald Low from Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, also one of Canada’s leading clinical microbiologists, will co-chair the CSRC advisory committee.

"CSRC will undoubtedly be a dynamic body that not only promotes and coordinates SARS research inside Canada but it will also build international linkages and partnerships required to control and eradicate SARS," says Dr Brett Finlay. "I am very pleased to be able to co-chair this important consortium with Dr Donald Low."

"While the CSRC is being established to deal with the immediate threat posed by SARS, it will also mobilize Canada’s health research community to address, in a coordinated and focused manner, specific research questions posed by emerging new pathogens," says Dr Donald Low.

The consortium is a voluntary association of funding participants and investigators. Members of the CSRC currently include: CIHR and several of its institutes, Health Canada, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund, Fonds de la recherche en sant du Qubec, Protein Engineering Network of Centres of Excellence, Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics of Cancer and Chronic Viral Diseases, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis Pasteur, and the Canadian Lung Association.