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Canadian researchers return from WHO forum with plan to tackle coronavirus


Canada will aim $6.5 million at research on stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, after co-ordinating with researchers around the world on tackling the outbreak.

Representatives of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) are returning from two days of talks with the international research community at a World Health Organization forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

There, more than 300 scientists and researchers mapped out a plan to answer the questions that linger about the virus that has killed more than 1,000 people, and agreed on a set of research priorities.

Chinese researchers participated remotely, and their message was that research should be focused on keeping people alive.

“That’s a good lens, because this is a rapid emergency response,” said Charu Kaushic, scientific director of CIHR’s Institute of Infection and Immunity, from her hotel room in Geneva. Kaushic is also a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

That could mean developing medical therapies or a vaccine in the long term. China, where the virus was first detected and where most of its victims live, is already testing dozens of potential drug treatments.

In the meantime though, researchers will be tailoring their studies to focus on infection prevention, quarantine protocols, personal protection measures, and other ways to keep the virus at bay. The WHO aims to study not only possible vaccines and therapies, but also the effectiveness of the public-health response and the social impact the disease has inflicted on the world.

The novel coronavirus has so far infected more than 45,000 people.

CIHR and several other Canadian research bodies have pulled together $6.5 million to hand out as research grants for science on the outbreak, and expect more money to be forthcoming as they continue negotiations with the federal government.

The group put out a call for research proposals Monday, and Kaushic said she will spend the next 24 hours refining applications so they align with the World Health Organization’s priorities.

The institute has suggested researchers look at everything from medical interventions to the spread of fear and discrimination caused by the virus.

The applications for the Canadian funding will be evaluated as quickly as possible, with the hope that researchers will be able to get to work before the end of the month.


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