threat in Canada and worldwide. Although many discoveries have been made over the past three years, there remain many unanswered questions as subvariants continue to spread and affect people around the world. This is why the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net) will continue focused activities with a final $6 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
“CoVaRR-Net is an academic network that has provided a new model for cooperation in research across Canada,” says CoVaRR-Net Executive Director Dr. Marc-André Langlois. The network unites 347 researchers and highly qualified personnel from 31 institutions across the country and provides end-to-end expertise from surveillance to public health guidance. It plays a major role in Canada to study, detect, and help protect against SARSCoV-2 and has the expertise to address any virus, bacteria or fungus that enters our borders.
“Although not currently officially part of our mandate, CoVaRR-Net’s Pillars and Major Initiatives have already started applying expertise gained during the pandemic to include more pathogens and many have already begun integrating more viruses,” says Dr. Langlois, also Professor at the University of Ottawa and Chair of the Faculty of Medicine’s Excellence in Pandemic Viruses and Preparedness Research.
Over the past year, CoVaRR-Net has been further strengthening its footprint in Canadian research. It is supporting many members’ activities in the Canadian government’s new research hubs to accelerate and bolster Canada’s ability to biomanufacture vaccines and therapeutics, as well as in various other funded research initiatives with components related to pathogen surveillance and pandemic preparedness.
Some of CoVaRR-Net’s priorities this upcoming year will include further enabling its Major Initiatives. This includes:
- CAMEO (CoVaRR-Net’s Computational Analysis, Modelling and Evolutionary Outcomes team), which uses computer modelling and simulations to evaluate the genetic evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants (and now other pathogens) and how quickly they propagate in the Canadian population. They also help to flag variants of Canadian origin and highlight current variants and pathogens of interest.
- CoVaRR-Net’s Wastewater Surveillance Research Group (WWSRG), which establishes best practices for wastewater testing and surveillance in Canada and around the world. It actively collaborates with 200 researchers and public health staff at over 250 wastewater testing sites across Canada, including in the Canadian North, where wastewater has become a key surveillance tool and a centre of innovation.
- The Coronavirus in the Urban Built Environment (CUBE) project, which does surface testing. Having proven floor sampling is effective in hospitals, long-term care homes, and other buildings to detect and track SARS-CoV-2 (and other respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV) and to predict outbreaks, it has experimented with using the method in planes and airports to act as an early warning system.
- CIEDAR (CoVaRR-Net’s Indigenous Engagement, Development, and Research team), which ensures that Indigenous voices are heard during the current pandemic, as well as all future pandemics.
- The CoVaRR-Net Biobank, whose objective is to store, catalog, and quickly share biological materials and information with network members and other researchers across Canada, as well as industry partners, as needed. The CoVaRR-Net Data Platform supports the cataloguing and management of metadata associated with materials in the Biobank. CoVaRR-Net’s Biobank has been forming partnerships with other biobanks across the country to create a biobank alliance.
- The Canadian Consortium of Academic Biosafety Level 3 (CCABL3) Laboratories, a CoVaRR-Net initiative that unites academic biosafety level 3 laboratories in Canada. It facilitates and expedites research on risk group 3 (RG3) pathogens, like SARS-CoV-2, by Canadian scientists and enables rapid research coordination and engagement with Canadian government authorities when facing new
emerging biological threats.