Message from the Scientific Director: The CIHR response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Dear Colleagues,

I hope you and your families are safe at home.

We are going through an extraordinary time in our lives. For all of us working in the Infection and Immunity area, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home on many different levels. Our community is at the frontlines of this crisis, both in clinical care and research. I know each one of us is trying our hardest to contribute in every way we can, whether it is being a source of authentic information to counteract all the misinformation that is out there, providing sound advice on infection prevention and control, or discussing the scientific evidence on social distancing, latest therapeutics, testing and vaccines.  In addition, many of you are working hard in clinics and health care settings and just as many of you are working on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 research. So to everyone of you, my heartfelt thanks!

There are ongoing discussions at the Science Council in CIHR regarding the significant disruptions in research and the research enterprise at every level, including delays or interruptions in conducting research; mentoring and supervising students; preparing and submitting publications, disseminating results in meetings, among many other things.  I know that many of you have questions about the impact on CIHR’s funding competitions and peer review, and I assure you that the CIHR senior leadership team is well aware of the disruptions and the resulting effects and pressure on the research community.

Over the coming days and weeks, you will hear more on CIHR’s approach forward that carefully aims to mitigate both short and long-term impacts on researchers, trainees, lab staff and research administrators, among others. CIHR-III will align with this policy as it relates to strategic programs and activities, and we will provide initiative-specific information, noting adjustments to application deadlines and other due dates as needed. In the meantime, funding opportunities currently active on ResearchNet remain open. However, informational webinars for funding opportunities led by our institute have been postponed, including the Team Grants: Preparation to Trial in Inflammation for Chronic Conditions and Hepatitis C Research. Delays in timelines for these and other opportunities will be communicated by CIHR shortly. We have also made the difficult decision to postpone all III events in March, April and May, including our strategic planning engagements and the New Investigator Forum. Please regularly consult the COVID-19 webpage on CIHR’s website, as well as the CIHR (@CIHR_IRSC) and III (@CKaushic) twitter accounts and e-bulletins for updates. We will be updating frequently as the COVID-19 situation evolves and more information becomes available.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, Canadian science and scientists have shown tremendous leadership nationally and internationally. In February, CIHR, Canadian III researchers and leading health experts from around the world participated in a World Health Organization (WHO)-Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) joint meeting in Geneva to assess knowledge, identify gaps and work together to accelerate priority research to stop the outbreak. Shortly thereafter, CIHR and other federal agency partners launched a Government of Canada rapid research response, and the response from the Infection and Immunity community was remarkable. This resulted in a total investment of $52.6M to support 96 research projects across the country to rapidly detect, manage and reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Earlier this week, CIHR and the Public Health Agency of Canada also activated the rapid response mechanism to provide an additional $1M of funding to the Canadian Immunization Research Network (CIRN) through an operating grant to enhance COVID-19 surveillance and clinical epidemiological efforts in Canada. Science and research has been central to the Canadian response, and I feel confident that public health policy will continue to rely on scientific evidence.

As a result of working closely with GloPID-R and the ongoing coordination from WHO, we have seen unprecedented levels of international cooperation between funding agencies and international researchers in the response to COVID-19. CIHR was among the first to sign on the open science policy agreement and we are committed to open, collaborative science. I invite you to review the list of funding calls from GloPID-R members and consider exploring research synergies and opportunities for international collaboration. This will undoubtably accelerate our global efforts to combat COVID-19.

I know that there will be many other ways that all of us can and will continue to contribute to help defeat this pandemic. When I was at the WHO COVID-19 meeting in February, Dr. Tedros concluded the meeting by saying, “this meeting highlights the best of humanity”! I feel the same way about our Infection and Immunity community in Canada.

Stay safe and keep well.


Charu Kaushic
Scientific Director
CIHR – Institute of Infection and Immunity

To those with lab-based research programs that are stopping non-essential work, I would encourage you to work with leadership at your institutions to join in the national efforts to donate reagents needed for COVID-19 testing and collect PPE that might be needed by front line health care providers.

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