Rapid Research Fund backs Western-led ideas

CDC // Special to Western News

The Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund. Announced in April, the fund was created as an immediate response to engaging the research community on ways to fight COVID-19.

Western researcher-led projects have been named among 15 initiatives provincewide as part of the government’s $20-million Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, focusing on areas of research such as vaccine development, diagnostics, drug trials and development, and social sciences.

“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,” Premier Doug Ford said in making the announcement May 21.

“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 funding was in response to a recent call for proposals for the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund. Announced in April, the 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 intellectual property generated.

Western-funded projects included:

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

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.

Li, Canada Research Chair in Proteomics and Functional Genomics, 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 those who are severely ill and identifying viral epitopes (part of an antigen that is recognized by the immune system) to inform epitope-vaccine development.

Jason Gilliland
Food Retail Environment Survey for Health and Economic Resiliency: FRESHER Ontario

The Food Retail Environment Survey for Health & Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) project is a rapid response to the widespread closures of, and modified operating conditions for, many retail food outlets.

Gilliland 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 it has affected businesses and their employees.

The 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.

A third Western researcher’s project was funded through Lawson Health Research Institute:

Dr. Claudio Martin
Physiology and Pharmacology
Lawson Health Research Institute
Clinical Research on the Therapeutic Benefits of Annexin A5 in Severe COVID-19 Patients

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 one-to-two 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.