The Hamilton Spectator
McMaster and Saskatchewan team up
Two infectious disease powerhouses join forces to collaborate against COVID-19
As researchers and health experts around the world try to understand and address the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear there is no time to start from scratch. The problem is too urgent.
Our two Canadian infectious disease powerhouses are ready — leading the way with a partnership to capitalize on existing strengths and previous investments to protect Canadians today and from future pandemics.
Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats at McMaster University and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan have joined forces to leverage extensive research and industry partnerships developed over decades, share leading-edge expertise and embrace collaboration to help Canadians now.
We share a combined will — along with the research know-how, crucial infrastructure and global networks — to collaborate for the common good.
This relationship is already wellestablished. Take for example virologist Arinjay Banerjee, who just a year ago was part of a team of scientists racing to isolate the virus causing COVID-19.
Now, Banerjee, who earned a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan and is a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University, is preparing to return to VIDO as a research scientist. The collaborations Banerjee forged at McMaster will continue as he and the VIDO team decipher the relationship between animals, people and emerging viruses. His goal is to continue collaborations with the McMaster infectious disease team at Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats and pursue new findings and discoveries from his new role at VIDO’s Centre for Pandemic Research.
This creation of a scientific partnership is just one example of the type of interconnection and knowledge sharing essential to tackling the current pandemic and preparing for the next one. These relationships expand our collective knowledge and ability, tap into strengths and build national capacity in areas such as infectious diseases transmission, vaccine development and manufacturing, genomics, evidence-based decision-making and health policy and new drug discovery.
If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that collaborations are critical to solving global crises and we simply cannot afford to allow these partnerships to end with this pandemic. No one investment or entity will save us, but continued investment in established, proven and successful partnerships and infrastructure can mitigate future risks.
Between our two institutions, we have the expertise and the willingness to help Canadians right away. We have the internationally renowned virologists, mathematicians, health scientists, veterinarians, engineers and health policy experts. We have specialized vector labs, one of the largest and most advanced containment Level 3 agriculture facilities in the world, high-powered computing equipment, and world-class research capabilities necessary to quickly isolate viruses, identify new variants and ramp up vaccine discovery and manufacturing. Our researchers are developing home test kits and leading national trials for plasma transfusion and anti-coronavirus therapies. Our engineers are investigating the best personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, and building better respiratory ventilators. We have social scientists studying the myriad effects of a global health crisis on our collective mental health and what the longterm implications are for our economy, our cities, our workplaces and our families.
Together, we are adopting a One Health approach — understanding the connection between humans, animals and the environment — to solving problems. USask is one of the only universities in Canada with a medical and veterinary school, plus significant infectious disease research and vaccine development expertise and infrastructure at VIDO. McMaster has ranked as Canada’s most researchintensive university for the last four years, demonstrating a culture of collaboration covering all aspects of human and societal health and infectious disease research. Our health sciences faculty is the birthplace of evidence-based medicine and ranks 11th in the world for health and clinical programs.
Together, we have built a strong foundation. What we need now is to build capacity — to scale up to help predict and solve the inevitable pandemics and looming global health risks of the future. These will require a co-ordinated collaborative response, including adding the strength of other institutions.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, researchers at our two institutions — across all disciplines — have attracted 250 pandemic-related research projects trying to advance innovations aiming to stop this pandemic. Our experts are learning lessons for the future, to help Canadians be bettered prepared. These investments not only allow us to respond to the crisis in the immediate and longer term, but they are critical to our ability to train the next generation of leaders who will be key to a better future globally.
Most importantly, together, we’re racing to find the answers that will make a profound difference in Canadian lives.
This isn’t our first pandemic and it’s not going to be our last. It is critically important that we continue this momentum, that we use the knowledge we’ve gained and our collective expertise to be sure that we are fully prepared the next time.
If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that collaborations are critical to solving global crises and we simply cannot afford to allow these partnerships to end with this pandemic
Volker Gerdts is the director and CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan. Gerry Wright is the lead of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats at McMaster University, the Michael G. DeGroote Chair in Infection and Anti-Infective Research and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Antibiotic Biochemistry.