Rapid Research Fund supports Western-led ideas

Two Western research 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, Biochemistry, Rapid Identification of Immunogenic and T-cell Epitopes to Enable Serologic Testing, Passive Immunotherapy, and Epitope Vaccine for COVID-19; $329,496

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, Geography, Food Retail Environment Survey for Health and Economic Resiliency: FRESHER Ontario; $114,460

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.

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