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Paving the way for COVID-19 research: RI-MUHC and McGill Containment level 3 Labs receive $1M in funding to accelerate research with live SARS Cov-2

 Marcel Behr, M.D., M.Sc.
Marcel Behr, M.D., M.Sc.
Montreal, November 6, 2020 - The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University are pleased to announce that they will receive $1 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to equip their respective Containment Level 3 (CL3) platforms and increase their research capacity with live SARS Cov-2. The grant is one of the biggest awarded in this competition. In total, 79 projects at 52 institutions were selected and funded by the CFI to cover the urgent need for equipment for ongoing COVID-19 research across Canada.

“With this funding, we will be able to furnish our CL3 labs with essential equipment that will enable cutting-edge research for the development of new tools to combat the pandemic, in Canada and beyond,” says Dr. Marcel Behr, Professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University and Associate Program Leader of the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program at the RI-MUHC. “This will allow dozens of investigators who have already secured funding to do research on live SARS-CoV-2 to safely conduct studies on the virus, not only grown in cells but also following in vivo experimental infections.”

Seed funding provided by the MUHC Foundation

The contribution of the MUHC Foundation to the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4) to support the labs was instrumental in jump-starting this project. Thanks to a seed grant of more than $308,000 provided by the Foundation through MI4, Dr. Behr and his team were able to repurpose existing facilities to advance COVID-19 research.

“The Containment Level 3 (CL3) platform housed within the RI-MUHC contains three independent pods that meet the second-highest level of biosafety standards defined by Canadian Biosafety Standards and Guidelines. It was created to support research in tuberculosis, influenza and HIV,” says Dr. Behr. “Thanks to the MUHC Foundation, we quickly adapted the labs, and in May 2020, we received the first batch of viral samples from laboratories in Quebec, Winnipeg, and Toronto.”  

“Our Foundation has prioritized supporting the CL3 platform via our COVID—19 Emergency Fund since the pandemic began,” says Julie Quenneville, President of the MUHC Foundation. “The support of our community was instrumental in helping the lab secure its initial designation to test the virus, and we are proud to see how philanthropy has led to this incredible investment from the CFI that will allow the RI-MUHC to continue to tackle the threat of COVID-19.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, has caused global morbidity, mortality and economic strife. At a medical level, there is no cure. At a population level, there is no vaccine. To stop the pandemic, we need to understand this virus, understand how it causes infection and disease, and develop improved tools for its control. To do so, researchers need well-equipped labs, where they can work safely with the pandemic virus and develop new treatments (such as drugs) and preventives (such as vaccines).

Both at the RI-MUHC and at the Bellini Life Sciences Complex, which houses McGill’s facility for COVID-19, McGill investigators, affiliated collaborators and external companies are undertaking a range of COVID-related projects. Dr. Silvia Vidal, a Professor in the Departments of Human Genetics and Microbiology and Immunology, who serves as the Director of the McGill University Centre on Complex Traits, oversees McGill facility as she works closely with Dr. Behr to expand opportunities for research.