McMaster to create and lead new international nexus for pandemics and biological threats

Photo by Kevin Patrick Robbins

McMaster is launching The Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, to ensure Canada and the world are better able to manage the human and economic devastation of COVID-19 and avert future pandemics.

“The challenges of biological threats are complex and require the contributions of experts across disciplines and sectors,” said McMaster president David Farrar. “COVID has exposed the world’s vulnerabilities and we need to bring expertise together in new ways. McMaster is ready to lead that effort drawing on more than 15 years of world-class research in infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance.”

McMaster researchers across diverse fields of expertise have rapidly mobilized to deliver on more than 100 COVID-19 related research projects, leveraging vast international networks.  These experts were awarded more than $20 million in COVID-19 Rapid Research funding representing more than a quarter of the funds allocated in the national competition.

Some of the expertise McMaster is already delivering:

  • Infectious disease physician Mark Loeb, a veteran of the SARS epidemic, is investigating with U.K. partners whether a COVID-19 vaccine will work for Canadians
  • Virologist Karen Mossman, who leads McMaster’s research enterprise, and her postdoctoral fellow Arinjay Banerjee, part of the Canadian team that isolated the coronavirus, continue to study bats to learn more about how their immune systems fight viruses
  • Engineer Ravi Selvaganapathy and researchers in the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials are working with Canadian manufacturers to offer a made-in-Canada solution as they build and test personal protective equipment that’s safe and effective
  • Hematologist Donald Arnold is leading one of the world’s largest clinical trials to determine whether blood from recovered COVID-19 patients offers an effective treatment for others hospitalized by the disease

The Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats will be an international network of scientists, clinical health and medical specialists, engineers, social scientists, history and policy researchers, economics and business experts devoted to one goal: preventing future pandemics and mitigating global health threats like antimicrobial resistance.

“This is Canada’s chance to seize the moment,” said Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and the inaugural lead of The Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats. “This initiative will recruit global talent, boost global health security, train graduate students, provide jobs and economic growth and make Canada a global destination for investment and innovation.”

McMaster’s strengths in infectious disease research and clinical and health sciences are broad and deep. During the past decade, 34 researchers from 10 departments and four Faculties attracted $293 million in research funding for these areas.

“We have the experts, the experience of mobilizing great minds across diverse areas of expertise, and the networks that connect McMaster around the world,” said Dr. Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “McMaster is uniquely and perfectly positioned to create The Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats to deliver innovative treatments and vaccines, novel diagnostics, data for informed policymaking, epidemiological models and evidence-based plans and protocols to neutralize threats.”

For McMaster researchers, breaking down barriers drives new ways of delivering research breakthroughs.

“It’s in our DNA and it’s what enriches our research and expands our impact,” said Karen Mossman, vice-president, Research. “Our collaborative approach has taught us that the best research results come from working together across disciplines and that’s exactly what this will allow us to do.”

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