Health Research on the Front Lines: A Message from Research Canada’s President and CEO









March 25, 2020

Canada’s health researchers are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, undertaking critical COVID-19 research following the Prime Minister’s March 11, 2020 announcement investing $275 million to enhance Canada’s capacity in research and development on medical countermeasures, antivirals, vaccine development and support for clinical trials.

Last week 49 new projects were added to the 47 projects previously announced on March 6. That brings the total to 96 projects led by researchers across the country that will focus on developing and implementing measures to rapidly detect, manage, and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

These projects are being funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and Genome Canada (GC).

Hats Off to our Health Researchers
A number of research laboratories have gone quiet as health researchers brace for long-term disruptions related to the Coronavirus. While some institutions are allowing researchers lab access while aiming to minimize the number of people gathering in buildings, others are discouraging all in-lab research. A key concern is maintaining colonies of research animals should our Member institutions’ animal care team be short-staffed during the outbreak.

Despite all of this disruption, many health researchers are voluntarily being redeployed in hospitals across the country to assist with the demands being placed upon Canada’s healthcare system during this crisis. Health researchers we have spoken to are saying none of the disruptions to their work compare to the human toll of the pandemic.

Help from CIHR
Luckily the CIHR is expected to announce a six-point contingency plan this week that will support health researchers through this crisis. This plan will address current grants, upcoming grant competitions and some of the challenges health researchers, including trainees and post-doctoral fellows, are experiencing because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Stay tuned for more information about this announcement from CIHR this week.

Profiling our Members to Parliamentarians and in the Media During this Crisis
Research Canada is dedicated to profiling the contributions our Members are making during this pandemic. Over the next few days, we will be reaching out to our Members asking you to provide us with stories of what you are doing to address the virus in your institution, organization or company and to inform us of the challenges you are facing and what you need from governments to do your jobs better. Research Canada will be sharing these stories with Parliamentarians and the public, including health and science journalists.

Bringing our Members Together Virtually
Research Canada will also be holding a series of webinars that allow our Members to share information and to get informed about what they can expect from Ottawa. Bringing people together during this crisis to share expertise, information and resources is a way that Research Canada can help our Members to stay connected to organizations much like their own and to capitalize on what may already be in motion to deliver the best care and services to patients.

Parliamentary Health Research Caucus Events
Research Canada is postponing its Environmental Health and Climate Change Research in Canada Reception originally scheduled for May 5, 2020 until October 21, 2020. We still plan to hold our Annual General Meeting on June 4, 2020 featuring a Parliamentary Health Research Caucus Luncheon on Rare Disease and Orphan Drug Research in Canada. Our Welcome Reception has also been postponed, but we will be exploring opportunities to hold this event on June 3, 2020. We will also explore a time to celebrate the 2020 Gairdner Awardees in the fall.

At this point, we will hold our Cancer Research in Canada Reception on December 1, 2020 and move our Medical Imaging for Treatment and Diagnosis in Canada Reception into the New Year. Of course, all of this may change depending upon the ongoing challenges of this global pandemic, but we will keep our Members apprised of new dates in the weeks ahead.

Some Members on the Front Lines: Supporting Canadians’ Mental Health
Our lives have changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it can feel a little overwhelming at times. Several of Research Canada’s Members are addressing the toll this pandemic can take on our mental health. I encourage you to visit CAMH’s website dedicated to helping people cope with COVID-19 at:

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada has also developed a campaign to assist people with depression, especially during this period.

Please visit:

Perhaps a sign of progress that comes out of all of this is that we, as Canadians, become better able to support those who are vulnerable. In the meantime, stay tuned for more stories and resources from our Members. Remember, science will take us through the worst of this and give us the tools we need to deal with this virus both as individuals and as a society. Now that is an encouraging thought!


By Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety, President and CEO, Research Canada