COVID-19: Quebec Researchers Working on Solutions
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the collaboration between scientific community stakeholders was immediate and impressive. The virus’s genetic sequence was promptly shared, and findings were widely reported in medical journals.
Researchers soon realized that science would be the way out of the crisis, so they rolled up their sleeves and started looking for solutions to the pandemic.
All industry members adapted quickly to support research, such as through numerous government subsidies, the Fonds de recherche du Québec’s (FRQ) launch of the Quebec COVID Network, and the Québec COVID Biobank, which was created by the FRQ and Génome Québec.
Several Quebec researchers are veritable experts in virology and immunology. As such, some have reoriented their research to search for answers to the questions raised by COVID-19. Here is a brief overview of the studies conducted in the province.
Dr. Nathalie Grandvaux
Science has been prominently featured in the media, and many experts have been interviewed about the virus. Dr. Grandvaux is one of the public figures who has helped people to understand the virus and its effects. A renowned expert on respiratory viruses, she is currently leading research to improve our understanding of the coronavirus and learn how to be more prepared for future pandemics.
A professor in Université de Montréal’s biochemistry and molecular medicine department, a researcher who is responsible for the CHUM’s immunopathology research team, the co-director of the Quebec COVID – Pandemic Network, co-founder and past-president of the Canadian Society for Virology, Dr. Grandvaux has established a Containment Level 3 laboratory to facilitate research on the coronavirus. This facility, which meets international standards, will help to accelerate the discovery of new treatments for COVID-19.
Dr. Gary Kobinger
Dr. Kobinger is a full professor at Université Laval’s department of microbiology, infectious diseases, and immunology, as well as director of its infectious diseases research centre. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Immunotherapy and Innovative Vaccine Platforms. A member of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards, he is recognized internationally for having developed the Ebola vaccine. He has often spoken about the best ways to combat COVID-19.
Dr. Kobinger and his team are currently working on a vaccine candidate, therapeutic antibodies, and new antivirals to stop the spread of COVID-19. Their vaccine candidate has shown positive results, and clinical trials are expected to begin shortly.
Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif
Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif is director of the Montreal Heart Institute’s Research Centre and a professor of medicine at Université de Montréal. Early in the pandemic, he created a very large study to investigate the effectiveness of colchicine – an anti-inflammatory drug often used to treat gout and pericarditis – in reducing complications from COVID-19.
Conducting a clinical study during a lockdown is challenging, yet Dr. Tardif and his team introduced innovative ways to enroll and monitor 4,500 patients, including telephone recruitment, electronic consent forms, home delivery of drugs, and remote monitoring. A partnership with CGI and the collaboration of regulatory agencies made it possible to launch the study quickly. The clinical trial indicated that this molecule reduces the risk of complications associated with COVID-19.
A Multitude of Other Promising Projects
Various research financing agencies in Quebec and Canada have awarded grants to researchers to support studies targeting COVID. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) have allocated $111,1 million to support 140 research projects, whereas the
Quebec government has invested more than $10 million (in French only) through its Programme innovation, its Programme de soutien aux organismes de recherche et d’innovation (support program for research and innovation organizations), and the Fonds de recherche du Québec.
SOME EXAMPLES OF COVID-19 RESEARCH PROJECTS IN QUEBEC
- Dr. Denis Leclerc (Université Laval) is developing a nanoparticle-based vaccine (More information – in French only).
- Dr. Guy Boivin, an infection diseases researcher at the CHU de Québec’s research centre and a Université Laval professor, and his team have identified two promising molecules which may inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which will be the subject of pre-clinical trials this year. (More information – in French only).
- Dr. Richard Leduc, a professor and researcher at Université Sherbrooke’s faculty of medicine and life sciences, is studying an inhibitor that may prevent the virus from entering the cell. (More information – in French only).
- Dr. Nicole Ezer, a researcher in the respiratory diseases program at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC), initiated a clinical study of ciclesonide, an inhaled steroid currently used to treat asthma which is known for producing very few side effects. Laboratory studies suggest that this anti-inflammatory slows SARS-Cov2’s viral replication and may reduce the severity of respiratory symptoms in patients with mild cases of COVID-19. (More information).
- Dr François Lellouche, of the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute, is studying the effects of ozanimod, a drug recently being used to treat multiple sclerosis by reducing the inflammation of pulmonary vessels and decreasing the severity of the disease. (More information – in French only).