Preventing next pandemic: University of Toronto’s EPIC consortium

Lab manager Betty Poon wears protective gear while working in U of T’s Combined Containment Level 3 facility, which is equipped to safely study pathogens that cause infectious disease (photo by Lisa Lightbourn)

The University of Toronto’s Combined Containment Level 3 (C-CL3) unit, equipped to safely study pathogens that cause infectious disease, was among the first labs in Canada to enable researchers to work with SaRS-CoV-2 samples.

While similar facilities elsewhere had closed after the 2003 SARS outbreak, the U of T lab remained open – supporting a vast research community including academic, hospital and industrial research needs – and was able to make a significant contribution to understanding and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the 20-year-old lab is also the heart of the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC) – a new U of T Institutional Strategic Initiative (ISI) that will unite top university, hospital and global experts in infectious diseases, as well as other fields.

The goal? Prepare for future pandemics.

Scott Gray-Owen, a professor of molecular genetics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and academic director of the C-CL3 facility, is eager to bring together everyone from cancer researchers to policy-makers – along with the next generation of student researchers – to study the lessons of COVID-19.

“As the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium comes together, we want [researchers] to be thinking about infection broadly – from molecular biology to aerosol transmission, to clinical intervention, harnessing immune responses and manufacturing,” he says.

EPIC’s hospital partners include the Hospital for Sick Children, Unity Health Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University Health Network and the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health.

Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC)

  • Combat infectious diseases
  • Prevent future pandemics
  • Advocate for science-based policies
  • Train future infectious disease leaders

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