CIHR's Response to the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic - Questions and Answers

What is CIHR doing in response to this pandemic?

CIHR has been increasing its support for pandemic-related research over the last three years and will continue to support this important work with its partners. Beyond that, CIHR has initiated a number of actions as a result of the current public health situation. These are as follows.

  1. On April 27, CIHR convened an urgent meeting of the CIHR Pandemic Preparedness Strategic Research Initiative (PPSRI) Task Group, created in 2006 to advise on how to strengthen Canada's pandemic research response. The PPSRI Task Group is meeting regularly to review research strategies and respond to evolving issues. The mandate of the Task Group encompasses the following objectives: to make recommendations on strategic research priorities and mechanisms to support these areas; to facilitate research linkages; and to identify partners and obtain funding to support necessary research activities. The members of the H1N1 Outbreak Task Group and their areas of expertise are listed below:

    • Mark Loeb (Chair), CIHR-III Advisory Board, Professor, McMaster University
      Expertise: Influenza Epidemiology, Randomized Controlled Trials, Health Services Research, Population Health, Influenza Surveillance, Observational Epidemiology, Pneumonia, Cohort Studies.

    • Luis Barreto, Vice President, Public Affairs, Sanofi Pasteur Ltd. and Institute Advisory Board Member
      Expertise: Epidemiology, Infectious Diseases, Vaccines, Clinical Trials

    • Earl Brown, Professor, University of Ottawa
      Expertise: Influenza Virus, Viral Pathogenesis, Viral Pneumonia, Viral Genetics, Mouse Models, Interferon Response, Fusion, Receptor Specificity, RNA Viruses, Molecular Biology, Reovirus.

    • Robert Brunham, Director, Centre for Disease Control, University of British Columbia
      Expertise: Epidemiology, Immunology of Infectious Diseases, Public Health, Population Biology, Mathematical Modeling.

    • Mike Drebot, Head, Viral Zoonoses, National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada
      Expertise: Zoonotic Infections, Microbial Genetics, Emerging Disease Diagnostics

    • Scott Halperin, Director, Canadian Center for Vaccinology, Dalhousie University
      Expertise: Vaccine Epidemiology, Immunization, Clinical Trials, Bordetella pertussis, Influenza Vaccine, Meningococcal Vaccine

    • Jeff Kwong, Scientist, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
      Expertise: Epidemiology, Public Health, Health Services Research, Influenza Epidemiology, Family Medicine, Vaccine Epidemiology

    • Ross Upshur, Director, Primary Care Research Unit, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
      Expertise: Respiratory Disease Epidemiology, Primary Care Research, Public Health Ethics, Clinical Ethics, Qualitative Methodologies, Philosophy Of Medicine.

    • Bhagirath Singh (Ex Officio), Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity (CIHR-III).

  2. We are expediting review, approval and funding of research that is critical for an outbreak response. Team leads for two special outbreak research teams have been identified and are putting together details of their proposed research efforts. The two team leads and areas of focus are: Dr. Guy Boivin, Laval (national network for characterization of influenza virus evolution and antiviral susceptibility); and, Dr. Babak Porbohloul, UBC (mathematical modeling). Additionally, CIHR has just launched a new Catalyst funding opportunity that will focus specifically on the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The application deadline for this grant is August 10th, 2009. For more information, visit the funding opportunity details.

  3. CIHR has requested updates on funded projects, outbreak research plans and any results that can be communicated to those on the front lines. We are organizing teleconferences on priority areas to facilitate research collaboration, coordination and sharing of specimens and reagents.

  4. CIHR, in close collaboration with PHAC, has moved swiftly to create a national research network focused on pandemic vaccine evaluation. The PHAC/CIHR Influenza Research Network, which received $10.8 million of funding from the Government of Canada, will help ensure that Canadians have timely access to an H1N1 vaccine. Dr. Scott Halperin, Director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax, will lead the Network, which will link over 80 researchers from 30 academic and public health institutions across Canada. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made the funding announcement on June 5th in Toronto.

What have we learned from SARS that can help with the current situation?

The SARS crisis in 2003 taught us many important lessons about how to prepare for and deal with a disease outbreak. In 2003, researchers mounted a rapid research response to confront this threat and, in a record 11 weeks, were able to sequence the genome of the coronavirus, an unprecedented achievement and indicator of the strength of the Canadian research community.

This information was extremely valuable in identifying possible targets for vaccines. The experience also demonstrated that solid research and evidence plays an important role in containing threats such as a pandemic. In the May 2006 federal budget, the Government of Canada announced funding of $21.5 million over five years for the CIHR to support pandemic influenza research and, since then, CIHR-supported researchers have been conducting research and developing results that will be valuable in the current situation.

What kind of pandemic research is CIHR supporting?

CIHR investments on behalf of the Government of Canada have supported 146 pandemic and influenza-related projects. Based on our experience with the SARS crisis and our extensive partnerships, CIHR is taking a very broad-based approach in addressing the threat of a pandemic. As part of the Pandemic Preparedness Strategic Research Initiative, researchers across Canada are conducting research in priority areas such as:

  • vaccines and immunization;
  • biology of the virus;
  • diagnostics;
  • prevention;
  • treatment; and,
  • ethics, legal and social research.

For more information about specific results from CIHR-supported research, see Summaries of CIHR-supported Pandemic Research.

What is CIHR doing to make sure that people know about and use the results of pandemic research?

CIHR and its partners held the Canadian Pandemic Preparedness Meeting: H1N1 Outbreak Research Response on July 8th, 2009 to facilitate the exchange of information between researchers and the users of this information. This event brought together Canadian researchers, public health officials and decision makers for focused discussions on the continued response to the pandemic, vaccine development and preparations for the upcoming flu season.

It is through meetings like this that health officials and decision makers will get the type of information they need to make informed, evidenced-based policies and procedures for use in the fall and in future disease outbreaks. CIHR has also produced lay summaries of CIHR-supported pandemic research so that the public and other interested parties can read about and understand the results of this research (Summaries of CIHR-supported Pandemic Research).

What are the next steps?

CIHR continue to work very closely with the research community in responding to the outbreak while supporting world-class infectious disease research, and providing the leadership needed to respond to emerging health issues such as this outbreak.

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