During a pandemic, speed and agility to mobilize resources, including research is essential for the safety of the public. British Columbia is home to a world class research community — we have highly skilled people, but they need the necessary funding in place as fast as possible to explore solutions specific to the threat. Genome BC’s emerging issues funding has long been a valuable resource, enabling researchers to quickly address previously unforeseen challenges in our province, and it has been instrumental in our ability to respond quickly to COVID-19.
In early February, Genome BC funded an initiative by British Columbia’s Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory (BCCDC), to incorporate genomic analysis into tracking the virus, adding a critical new dimension to its outbreak response capabilities. While tracking the spread of the virus helps us understand how it is spreading through a community, genomic analysis can help scientists determine the origins of the virus and predict what treatments will be effective against it now and in the future. After the initial discussion with the BCCDC, Genome BC was able to allocate and approve funding within less than a week. The initial support of $150K, led to additional funding of $1M by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for the BCCDC to expand this important tool.
Speed and agility were also essential to bring forward our Rapid Response Funding Program. This initiative demonstrated what is possible toward responding quickly to a crisis. The program, which opened on March 30 and ended on April 8, saw the Genome BC team review 185 research proposals, make thoughtful decisions rapidly and have funding agreements executed in under a week. In all, over a dozen projects received funding based on their ability to address the most pressing questions in the fight against COVID-19.
Our review process was designed for speed with qualitative controls in place to ensure research proposals were thoroughly reviewed while ensuring they met certain criteria. Our team worked around the clock, bringing their deep scientific experience in the fields of genomics research and innovation to analyze and review prospective projects. Submissions were reviewed based on their individual merit and criteria including time to impact, significance of impact, and ratio of funding to impact.
“We focused on funding projects that would have an impact on people within six months.” said Dr. Pascal Spothelfer, President and CEO, speaking with Conversations that Matter Host, Stu McNish. “This funding is primarily focused on delivering short-term impacts, but is also intended to complement longer term, larger funding opportunities.”
Review processes typically take weeks or months, however in a pandemic, the earlier researchers can explore avenues that tackle a variety of needs, the earlier we can take action to intervene and improve public health outcomes. Where necessary, Genome BC sought clarification or additional information from third parties, including the BCCDC, to ensure projects were aligned with evolving needs. Alignment with BC’s public health priorities as stated by the Provincial Health Officer and the BCCDC, and the areas of research focus highlighted by the BC COVID-19 Strategic Research Advisory Committee is essential.
A complete list of projects funded by Genome BC’s Rapid Response Program is available here.
The complete interview with Genome BC’s President and CEO speaking with Stu McNish, Host of Conversations that Matter, is available here.