August 27, 2020
Vancouver, Canada – In the midst of a pandemic how can we safely return to work? This question is on the minds of employees, employers, and policymakers as the world begins the process of re-opening during COVID-19. Places that have successfully restricted person-to-person contact have also curbed transmission, but these restrictions come with damaging economic trade-offs.
To support decision making around relaxing restrictions and managing work environments as society reopens, an inter-sectoral group of industry, academic, and public sector partners in BC is leading a new 15-month, $1.2 million return-to-work study. The data from the “SARS‐CoV‐2 Study for Eased Restrictions in British Columbia” (SAfER) project, collected in controlled settings, will be available in real time to help inform public health decisions that lead to positive outcomes.
The SAfER study—supported by Genome BC, Genome Canada, and industry partners—will track and collect data over time on infection, immunity, contacts, and clinical symptoms for 1,500 volunteer employees at BC based biotechnology companies, including Xenon Pharmaceuticals, STEMCELL Technologies and Zymeworks, as well as Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. An employee survey will also collect information about stress and anxiety related to the pandemic.
“The SAfER study will track and collect anonymous data that will provide unique information about the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace and academic research settings,” says Dr. Pascal Spothelfer, President and CEO, Genome BC. “This is one of the first projects of its kind in Canada, and BC has a window of opportunity in which to learn and lead as we prepare to meet the coming challenges.”
The breadth of data types collected will also enable integrated data analyses that could reveal trends and predictive markers to inform workplace safety recommendations for COVID-19 and future pandemics.
“No one can solve the challenges around re-opening workplaces on their own. We hope that the type of public-private partnership we are creating with this work can help create a framework for data-driven conversations with all the players at the table,” says study co-lead Dr. Simon Pimstone.
Dr. Pimstone (University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine, Xenon Pharmaceuticals) is joined by co-leads Dr. Tania Bubela (Simon Fraser University), Dr. Josef Penninger (University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine), and Dr. Mel Krajden (BC Centre for Disease Control / Provincial Health Services Authority, University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine) who echoes the call for partnership: “Effective handling of this pandemic relies on collaboration between public health, academia, and industry to ensure key research is translated into practice.”
The study will be managed by Emmes Canada, an international Contract Research Organization with deep experience in public health, and supported in testing and tracing partnerships by diagnostics company LifeLabs and app developer Thrive Health. The BC Centre for Disease Control will hold the data and perform the analyses. The study will be initiated once all relevant agreements and ethical approvals are in place which is expected in the near term.
Contact: Jennifer Boon, Communications Manager, Sectors