“Despite all the research and health measures deployed since the beginning of the pandemic, we are still dealing with a virus that could soon equal or surpass measles as one of the world’s most infectious viral agents and will continue to evolve until new solutions are developed to stop it,” says , CoVaRR-Net’s Executive Director and Professor of Molecular Virology and Intrinsic Immunity at the University of Ottawa. “In order to reduce the virus’s spread, we must continue studying different aspects of variants to discover their vulnerabilities. The research projects in which CoVaRR-Net is investing have been carefully selected to answer some key questions to exploit these vulnerabilities and support public health officials in tackling the pandemic,” adds Dr. Langlois.
The 15 projects span a variety of focusses such as studying ; the tracking and modelling of in Canada; the enhanced surveillance of across the country; the such as monitoring its presence in office buildings and malls; and the social factors that may protect or make more vulnerable to variants.
“In order to reduce the virus’s spread, we must continue studying different aspects of variants to discover their vulnerabilities.”
Dr. Marc-André Langlois
— CoVaRR-Net’s Executive Director and Professor in uOttawa's Faculty of Medecine
Other projects aim to:
- Examine the antibody response to vaccination in the saliva of adults versus children to better understand how COVID-19 vaccines provide protection in the mouth and airways and determine whether children are less likely to have symptoms due to a stronger antibody response in the mucosa. This will . The project will also investigate whether people who were vaccinated and then caught Omicron can benefit from further vaccine doses and when.
- Determine whether mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genes confer an immune escape potential for emerging variants of concern. This analysis will help determine whether mutations affect infection-acquired or vaccination-induced antibodies or cellular immunity.
- Determine which mutations in SARS-CoV-2 genes cause severe disease and assess whether nucleoprotein-based vaccines could enhance protection against a broad spectrum of variants. This could lead to the to act more effectively against current and future variants.
- Analyze viral genomics and sequencing data from (obtained from people who test positive) to support public health surveillance and act as an early detection system for emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Integrating data from these two complementary screening methods will also support evidence-based public health strategies to rapidly contain outbreaks and target vaccination efforts geographically.
- Study the potential for variants to develop antiviral resistance, meaning they would no longer respond to current medicines. The researchers seek to understand to help people recover from COVID-19 faster.
CoVaRR-Net’s investments also include laying the groundwork for evolving into an academic pandemic preparedness network and making it easier and faster for researchers to get what they need to study variants in Canada. Mechanisms being created include a SARS-CoV-2 to facilitate sharing of resources; a network-wide sharing agreement to facilitate the lawful transfer of data and samples between laboratories across Canada; a , which brings together Canadian wastewater and environment investigators from universities across Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada/National Microbiology Laboratory, and provincial wastewater surveillance programs; and the creation of the , which aims to facilitate and expedite research on Risk Group 3 pathogens by Canadian scientists, industry, and public health laboratories.