July 13, 2021
As news of a novel coronavirus and the urgent threat it presented began to emerge, the BCCDC’s ability to incorporate genomic analysis into tracking the virus gave our province an immediate advantage in our response to the outbreak.
In the weeks following, the number of cases grew at an alarming pace—more than anyone could have predicted. Identifying where a case originated became important to understanding sources and patterns within the transmission. Sequencing data helped differentiate between cases and informed how best to respond to this emergency, ultimately benefiting public health and the residents of BC.
Following the BCCDC’s success, facilitated through our funding, Genome BC launched a COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding Program to fund promising research and innovation projects with the realistic potential to have a material impact within six months on evolving COVID-19 related challenges. By leveraging Genome BC’s ability to respond quickly to emerging issues and connect with researchers, scientists and innovators, the COVID-19 Rapid Response Program was designed and implemented within two weeks—providing rapid funding for research and innovation projects with the real potential to address urgent challenges related to the pandemic. Within a few days, the program had received 185 proposals.
The Rapid Response Program leveraged Genome BC’s extensive internal expertise in research and innovation to review project submissions based on their individual merit and criteria including time to impact, significance of impact, ratio of funding to impact and originality of the work or complementarity to ongoing work. Genome BC leveraged its existing relationships with the research community, BCCDC, BC Public Health Office and the BC COVID-19 Strategic Research Advisory Council (SRAC) to seek clarification and additional information to ensure alignment with evolving needs and better understand the BC and Canadian research ecosystems.
As a result of this expedited approach, researchers were able to launch projects sooner, leading to realistic potential to have a fast and material impact on evolving COVID-19 related challenges in BC. Funded projects reflect a diverse set of scientific research and innovation initiatives, from developing antibody-based therapies, to securing reagents to scale up COVID-19 testing in BC, to sanitizing respirator masks to protect health care workers.
To date Genome BC has provided over $3 million in funding to 24 projects, fulfilling unmet, immediate needs that have and will dramatically define the way that our province responds to this pandemic. Funding is primarily focused on delivering short-term impacts, but is also intended to complement longer term, larger funding opportunities.
From the outset of this crisis, Genome BC, along with Genome Canada and other Canadian genomic enterprise partners, worked proactively with governments and researchers to mobilize a coordinated response to the national—and global—SARS-CoV-2 emergency. Genomics data became one effective tool in the containment and management of this threat.
The Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) is committed to generating accessible and usable genomics data to inform public health and policy decisions, as well as to guide treatment and vaccine development. In addition to providing critical information to guide the current public health and policy response to COVID-19, CanCOGeN provides data for outbreak analysis and is poised to use the data to study cases of reinfection as well as to support post-vaccination surveillance. Beyond COVID-19, CanCOGeN is helping build the capacity and infrastructure for a much-needed national genomics and health data platform in preparation of future crises.
This article appears in Genome BC’s 2020/21 Annual Report.
View the whole report here.