USask College of Medicine researchers Nazeem Muhajarine (left), Cory Neudorf (top right), and Cheryl Camillo of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the U of Regina will lead one pillar of a new national COVID-19 response network. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)

USask researchers help lead $9-million COVID Variant Rapid-Response Network

University of Saskatchewan (USask) and University of Regina (U of R) researchers are joining forces with scientists across the nation to undertake surveillance, sequencing, tracing and research-driven action on the COVID-19 virus variants that have been identified in Canada.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, today announced an investment of $14.3 million from the Government of Canada, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), to support new research on the COVID-19 virus variants. This includes $9 million for a new national network that will co-ordinate and align variants research throughout the country, led by Dr. Marc-Andre Langlois of the University of Ottawa.  

The COVID Variant Rapid-Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), comprised of eight core pillars of activity, will undertake surveillance, sequencing, tracing and research focused on mitigating the harmful impact of COVID-19 variants. Pillars six through eight will focus on informing governments, public health decision makers, and public health systems of the latest evidence-based research and deploying information to the public in Canada and abroad, with specific efforts to engage Indigenous partners and communities. 

“We are proud to be part of research efforts battling the effects of COVID-19 mutations, which are creating increased stress and concern for the people of Canada,” said Baljit Singh, vice-president research at USask. “We appreciate the support of the CIHR, and Minister Hajdu, in ensuring scientists have the ability to collaborate fully at this pivotal moment through a rapid-response network.” 

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine (PhD), USask College of Medicine, along with Dr. Cory Neudorf (PhD) from the USask College of Medicine and Dr. Cheryl Camillo (PhD) from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the U of R, will lead pillar six.  

Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings (PhD), USask College of Arts and Science, will lead pillar seven.   

“Many provinces are seeing variant-driven surges. Even when the vaccines are rolled out we will continue to have challenges with variants, not only in Canada but globally,” says Muhajarine. “One of the main roles of the Public Health, Health Systems and Social Policy pillar, is to act as a go-between, connecting public health professionals and clinicians who are on the front lines of the pandemic with scientists studying the variants.”

The pillar led by Muhajarine will receive $628,205, while the pillar led by Johnson-Jennings will receive $168,000, for a total of $896,000 going to these public health, policy and Indigenous community-based research initiatives. 

As variants are confirmed, we will draw on our collective experience and established professional networks to identify and translate the best practices of local, provincial, and national health systems around the world to maximize response effectiveness across Canada,” said Camillo.

CIHR will also provide $5.3 million in supplementary funding for 90 ongoing COVID-19 projects, including $50,000 for each of three from USask, led respectively by Dr. Joyce Wilson (PhD) and Dr. Kerry Lavender (PhD) from the College of Medicine, and Dr. Darryl Falzarano (PhD) of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization and Western College of Veterinary Medicine. 

“We are investing in this research to accelerate our understanding of the COVID-19 variants to determine how we may need to adjust our strategies for protecting the safety of Canadians. The results will contribute to global efforts to address the variants of the virus that have emerged and provide key evidence to support our response in Canada,” said Minister Hajdu. 


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