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Exploring Our COVID-19 Regional Genomics Initiative

May 8, 2020

Genomics – and state-of-the art genomic technologies – are playing a key role in Canada’s response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) challenges and Genome Prairie’s activities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are no exception.

Genome Canada has provided some funding for regional genomics projects to address COVID-19 challenges.  “In response to a subsequent request for proposals, Genome Prairie received 11 very innovative and broad-ranging proposals from researchers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Our peer reviewers ranked these 11 expressions of interest and the top four were asked to submit full proposals. A selection will then be sent to Genome Canada in Ottawa for review and approval,” explains Gerald Brown, Genome Prairie’s interim President and CEO.

Genome Canada describes projects within the COVID-19 regional genomics initiative framework as outcome-driven and focused on delivering a genomics-based solution to help address the current crisis in the near term. Connectivity with other researchers working on COVID-19 regionally, nationally or internationally is “encouraged and expected.”

In the Prairies, the successful regional genomics initiative project will receive a maximum of $240,000 in funding from Genome Prairie for research taking place between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022. There are also opportunities for co-funding on a provincial and industry level – which could increase both the level of support and the project’s scope.

“The proposals submitted by researchers in the Prairie region are all pioneering, having different and imaginative approaches to addressing COVID-19. This competition process has been uniquely characterized by a rapid response and quick turnaround at every stage of the review and selection process,” says Brown. “It has been an exciting, challenging and productive undertaking.”

On the health care front, the federal government has committed $40 million to Genome Canada to launch the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN). Led by Genome Canada, CanCOGeN partners with the six regional Genome Centres, national and provincial public health labs and genome sequencing centres through hospitals, universities and the private sector.

“Through the virus-arm of CanCOGeN, Genome Prairie will immediately be working with our two provincial health labs and supporting virus sample collection, processing, sequencing, storage, data submission and analysis. In the longer term, Genome Prairie will be helping the Romanov lab and the Cadham lab acquire the necessary genome sequencing infrastructure and training to enable a rapid and complete response should this type of outbreak happen again,” says Brown.

Genome Prairie may also be involved with the host-arm of CanCOGeN. This will look at whole genome sequencing of individuals infected by the virus, including documentation of responses to infection, in an effort to understand the underlying mechanisms for responses that range from a mild disease to life-threatening crises.

In Regina, the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory (formerly the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory) works to identify, respond to, and prevent disease in the province. In Manitoba, the Cadham Provincial Laboratory enhances the health of Manitoba residents through testing, research and education.

In addition, a key part of the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Branch of the Public Health Agency of Canada is located in Winnipeg – the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health is part of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML). This location of the NML is exceptional because it is the Canada’s only Level 4 virology lab (Level 4 is the highest level of containment in the world).

“Prairie region researchers have really risen to the occasion with some inventive proposals,” concludes Brown.

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