Frequently asked questions: COVID-19 research
Spring and Fall 2020 Project Grant Competitions
What is the status of the Spring 2020 Observer Program?
Update: Spring 2020 Observer Program
CIHR reinstated the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition with revised timelines to adjudicate the competition over the summer using video conference panels. As a result, and due to our current context, our team is focused squarely on the delivery of the peer review process for this competition. Unfortunately, this means that we will not be offering the Observer Program this summer.
This was a difficult decision as this program is highly valued by CIHR and the research community. It is our intention to offer the program as part of the Fall 2020 competition and details will be available shortly.
For more information about the Observer Program, please consult the Spring 2020 Observer Program webpage.
What is the status of the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition?
Due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in April CIHR decided to take the step of postponing the peer review of the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition, which was in progress.
Now that we have a clearer understanding of the impact of the pandemic on our community, our employees, our partners and stakeholders, CIHR has decided to move forward with adjudication of the applications received for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition during the summer 2020. We are also planning to deliver the Fall 2020 Project Grant Competition.
Timelines for the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition will be adjusted to allow the sufficient time to deliver the Spring 2020 competition and to ensure there is no overlap between competitions, so that applications not funded through the Spring 2020 competition will be able to be submitted in the Fall 2020 competition.
How will the funds from the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition be distributed to the research community?
CIHR had planned to invest $275M in this competition and, as with all competitions, this investment would have been made over multiple fiscal years. CIHR will use some of these funds (approximately $31M) to support the costs of the optional COVID-19 support measures and the remaining amount will go towards funding applications that were submitted in the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition that will now be adjudicated in the summer.
In addition, we can confirm that CIHR’s emergency funding for COVID-19 research was not taken from the Project Grant envelope. It is specifically a component of the Government of Canada response to this crisis and is new money to CIHR (i.e., not from our base budget).
I was to be a peer reviewer/Committee Chair/Scientific Officer for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. What happens now?
If you had agreed to be a peer reviewer, Committee Chair, or Scientific Officer for the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition, we would greatly appreciate if you could carry out these roles in the summer of 2020. CIHR operations will be communicating soon to confirm your availability.
Will the Spring or Fall 2020 Project Grant competitions be postponed due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Spring 2020 Competition has been reinstated and applications will be adjudicated over the Summer. The timelines have been adjusted accordingly, and CIHR is still planning a funding start date of October 1st 2020 for successful applications.
Timelines for the Fall 2020 Project Grant competition will be adjusted to allow for the delivery of the Spring 2020 competition and to ensure there is no overlap between competitions, this allows applications not funded through the Spring 2020 competition will be able to be submitted in the Fall 2020 competition.
More detailed information on timelines will be shared as soon as it becomes available.
Will the Spring and Fall 2020 Project Grant competitions use virtual peer review?
Face-to-face peer review continues to be CIHR’s standard for peer review; however, we are aware of the impacts from COVID-19 and are currently assessing ways of mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on planned peer review activities.
For the adjudication of the Spring competition this summer, this means using a synchronous (i.e., videoconference), high-quality peer review process that mimics the in-person peer review process. This approach is also likely to be used for the upcoming Fall 2020 Project Grant competitions as it is highly unlikely that traditional in-person face-to-face peer review will be a viable option for this competition.
CIHR is learning from the virtual peer review processes being used in the COVID-19 funding competitions to understand some of the technical challenges that must be addressed before adjudicating the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. We are also looking carefully at the experiences of other granting agencies that are using virtual processes.
More information will be provided to the community on a competition-by-competition basis.
Impact of COVID-19 on CIHR operations
New Will CIHR fund ongoing and incremental costs for participants of virtual peer review meetings?
Virtual peer review is the current reality for CIHR’s competitions. The tri-agencies recognize that participation in the virtual peer review process may result in costs that would not normally be incurred during face-to-face meetings.
Therefore, to ensure that we are treating virtual peer review participants equitably, CIHR will allow compensation of dependent care (e.g., childcare, elder care, family with differing abilities) and phone and internet costs for the duration of their participation in peer review meetings. Please note that Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in the Observer Program are eligible for this compensation.
Virtual peer review participants can claim:
- Up to $50 per household, per day, with a declaration for dependent care or up to $100 per dependent, per day, with receipt (written receipt acceptable) with a declaration for dependent care.
- Incidental per diems for days of peer review meetings for phone and internet costs, with justification.
The procedures for submitting claims for dependent care and phone and internet costs will be made available once confirmed.
Where can I find information about upcoming webinars and Ask Me Anything sessions?
CIHR regularly holds webinars that allow us to share information, exchange ideas and discuss issues of importance with our stakeholders. Details of upcoming and archived webinars
When do I need to submit my Grants in Aid of Research Statement of Account (Form 300)?
In order to provide necessary flexibility to grant recipients and administering institutions given the current situation with COVID-19, the deadline date for submitting the Grants in Aid of Research Statement of Account (Form 300) for the 2019-2020 fiscal year (April 1st, 2019 to March 31st, 2020) has been postponed until September 30th, 2020.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the CIHR Contact Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is CIHR closed? Is it business as usual?
No, CIHR is not closed. The agency is continuing to operate and carry out some of its business activities. In order to facilitate social distancing, CIHR employees are working remotely from home. It should be noted that this is not business as usual. For the foreseeable future, CIHR is refocusing its resources to concentrate on the COVID-19 pandemic, including mitigating its effects on the research community.
Is CIHR moving to virtual peer review?
Face-to-face peer review continues to be CIHR’s standard for peer review. The agency is currently assessing ways of mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on planned peer review activities, and more information will be provided to the community on a competition-by-competition basis.
What is CIHR doing to support researchers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
CIHR is committed to supporting grant- and scholarship-holders, applicants, and peer reviewers as we adjust, together, to these extraordinary circumstances. This could include adjusting program application and reporting dates, extensions to grants, etc. We are currently reviewing the list of all competitions that were recently launched, are in progress, or were to be launched in the coming months, and coming up with mitigation strategies for each one.
Decisions will be made on a competition-by-competition basis and will be communicated early and widely to affected researchers. The Tri-Agencies have also moved to include as eligible expenses the reimbursement of non-refundable travel fees from agency funds when travel is cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will CIHR fund ongoing and incremental costs incurred by funded research activities during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Given the ever-evolving circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC recognize that grant recipients and/or research team members may continue to incur ongoing research costs, as well as incremental costs that would not normally be incurred (for example, compensation and travel) related to agency- funded research activities. The agencies would like to remain as flexible as possible to support grant recipients during this time and acknowledge that some of these costs may be eligible to be paid from agency grant funds. The agencies will therefore defer to administering institutions to determine if incremental costs are consistent with the principles and directives set out in the Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration (and if they are, then those expenses will still be eligible to be paid from grant funds).
The agencies also understand that not all planned research activities are possible as research institutions are closed requiring that the majority of people work remotely, if they are able to work at all. The agencies consider that continuing to pay any members of the research team, eligible to be paid from an agency grant, is an eligible expense in the context of COVID-19 (and that these individuals should continue to be paid).
The agencies encourage grant recipients to consider their obligation to practice physical distancing and self- isolation requirements as directed by government and health authorities. As such, at the present time, the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) may be an appropriate use of grant funds if the PPE is required to conduct the research and if the PPE is not normally provided by the administering institution.
Is CIHR still participating in conferences and events?
The Tri-Agencies are cancelling or postponing non-essential in-person events and travel at least until the end of April. As the situation is still evolving, there is a possibility that events in the spring and summer may also be affected. More information will be available shortly. However, CIHR may still participate in events and conferences where virtual participation is an option.
Furthermore, CIHR’s Institutes are determining how to proceed (postponing, cancelling, or moving to a virtual format) on an event-by-event basis in close collaboration with CIHR and their respective host institutions (whose policies they are expected to follow).
Will there be an effect on the development, finalization, and launch of CIHR’s Strategic Plan?
While a great deal of progress has been made on the development and finalization of CIHR’s new Strategic Plan, the next step in the process – review of the latest draft by several bodies internal and external to CIHR – has been impacted by the disruptions caused by the pandemic. CIHR has postponed the launch of the Strategic Plan that had been scheduled for June to Fall 2020.
How do I get more information
We encourage the community to consult the relevant Tri-Agency websites and Twitter accounts on a regular basis as we will be providing frequent updates. Individuals may also wish to contact their university administration, or the funding agencies directly. CIHR’s Contact Centre remains operational and staff, who are working remotely, can be reached at email@example.com.
Investment in Canada’s Rapid Research Response to COVID-19
How many projects will you support through these competitions?
Given the diversity of projects likely to be received, the number of research projects funded will depend on the size, scope, and quality of the applications as assessed by peer review. Researchers are encouraged to build their projects on existing networks, infrastructures, and relationships with partners to leverage efforts and increase timeliness, efficiency, and impact of response.
What are the objectives of the new research teams for the funding opportunity on clinical trials?
The researchers are being asked to:
- Accelerate the availability of high-quality and real-time evidence to support Canada’s rapid response to the global pandemic in order to better prevent, detect, treat, and manage COVID-19;
- Develop, test, and study the implementation of effective interventions to prevent, detect, treat, and manage COVID-19 at the individual and/or population levels by reorienting or amplifying existing research platforms, networks, and trials as well as funding new research projects within existing and established research infrastructure;
- Enable Canadian engagement and coordination in national and international large-scale trials and better enable harmonized data collection, sharing of data, quasi-experimental and observational studies, and rapid large-scale evaluation of impact;
- Provide evidence to inform clinical and health system management and public health response, and/or decision-making and planning within and across jurisdictions in Canada and internationally; and
- Enhance local, national, and/or international collaborative efforts, including in low- and middle-income countries, to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 and related negative consequences.
What are the research areas?
Researchers are required to concentrate their efforts on understanding the safety, efficacy, effectiveness, ethics, and implementation of these areas:
- Vaccines, diagnostics, or therapeutics, such as but not limited to:
- Examine the enhanced immune disease and Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE) aspects of vaccines
- Testing existing therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19 infection
- Point of care diagnostics that can be applied at home and/or in remote locations
- Correlates of protection based on sero-surveillance testing data for COVID-19 infection
- Optimization and testing of convalescent sera or other passive antibody transfer protocols
Safety and efficacy studies of vaccines and therapeutics should be sufficiently powered for stratification across relevant subgroups, for example, severity of disease, age, sex, or high risk factors.
- Clinical management and health system interventions, such as but not limited to:
- resource allocation decision-making, including access to equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as therapeutics
- interventions to plan for, expand on, or redress surge capacity as well as organization of care, and the health care workforce
- management of COVID-19 in cases with co-morbidities such as diabetes or cardiorespiratory conditions
- access to and implementation of timely and relevant clinical management approaches, such as virtual care and related guidelines or non-hospitalized care of cases, including in remote locations or Indigenous communities
- infection prevention and control measures
- interventions and strategies to mitigate the impact on non-COVID care
- population level genomics that determine COVID-19 differences in susceptibility and severity
- Social, policy, and public health responses and related indirect consequences, such as but not limited to:
- population-level containment strategies such as physical distancing, quarantine, and travel restrictions
- public health communications and citizen engagement
- impacts of external decisions/measures on self-determination and self-governance of Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis)
- scale-up of systems for assessment and diagnostics testing and follow-up
- real-time data development and design for predictive or forecasting models and observational studies that inform policy-making
Projects focused on scale-up or reorientation could include, but not be limited to, projects from the first COVID-19 rapid response competition, as well as efforts to amplify or adapt existing national and international clinical trials and related research networks and platforms. International collaborations and/or multi-site/multi-jurisdictional research is expected.
- Vaccines, diagnostics, or therapeutics, such as but not limited to:
Will the research teams focus on specific populations?
Researchers are encouraged to consider priority populations that may face unique contexts, challenges, and conditions of marginalization, including older adults, children and their families, homeless and under-housed populations, populations living in institutional or communal settings (including long term care facilities), immunocompromised citizens and/or those living with serious chronic conditions, those who face unintended systematic bias(es) within the health care system, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, populations living in remote settings, refugees, and people in countries with weaker health systems.
Where does the funding come from?
The funding available for this rapid research response is approximately $107.9M.
- Of this total amount, up to $7M is available over one year from IDRC to fund applications with investigators/collaborators from research institutions based in low- and middle-income countries.
- Of this total amount, $300,000 is available over one year from the CIHR Institute of Aging to fund research relevant to the areas of interest including:
- Vaccine-related research that includes older adults as research participants and addresses their specific needs relating to disease and vaccination.
- Research related to treatment and clinical trials that ensure that older adults of both sexes are appropriately represented in clinical trials and that polypharmacology and optimal dosing for older adults are considered when developing new COVID-19 treatments and guidelines.
- Research related to ethics, health services, public policy, and population health focused specifically on the needs of (and impact on) older adults.
The following provincial research funders have also committed funding over one year to support applications with principal or co-applicants from research institutions based in their respective provinces:
- Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (British Columbia) – $150,000
- Alberta Innovates – $100,000
- Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation – $50,000
- Research Manitoba – $100,000
- New Brunswick Health Research Foundation – $100,000
- Research Nova Scotia – $100,000
The maximum amount per grant that can be requested for clinical trial research is $5M over one year.
The maximum amount per grant that can be requested for all other types of research is $2.5M over one year.
Please note that the budget amounts have been set at these levels to allow for adequate funding of some of the research projects that could be submitted. However, it is expected that most budgets will be significantly lower than these maximums. All budgets will be subject to rigorous analysis to ensure applicants are requesting appropriate funds for their research.
Partnership approaches, either in-kind or financial, to increase the budget available to projects and/or maximize the impact and reach is encouraged; however, they are not mandatory.
For more information on the appropriate use of funds, refer to Allowable Costs.
Is CIHR using money from the cancellation of the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition to support this research?
No. We can assure researchers that the funds allotted to this competition are not from the cancellation of the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition but are a part of the strategic whole of Government of Canada efforts.
How will you choose the grantees?
CIHR’s funding decisions are based on peer review. In peer review, applications for funding are assigned to reviewers – fellow researchers who possess the required experience and expertise to properly assess the quality of the application. Peer reviewers evaluate applications submitted for a particular funding opportunity, rate them on their merit using a defined set of evaluation criteria so that they can be ranked by CIHR in order of priority for funding, and make recommendations on the budget needed to support the application. CIHR’s peer review processes are defined by the principles of confidentiality, absence of conflict of interest, fairness, and transparency.
Is the process different because it’s a rapid research response?
Yes, given the urgency of the situation, with the number of COVID-19 cases increasing daily, we need to continue to respond rapidly. While most funding competitions are managed and coordinated over a period of many months, this competition will be done in a matter of weeks. To ensure that we fund high quality research, we will continue to use a rigorous process and recruit experts to review the applications. The process will be similar to that of the first COVID-19 rapid research response CIHR launched on February 10, for which competition results were released on February 28.
The key dates for this second competition are below:
- Launch of the full request for applications: week of April 20, 2020
- Application deadline: week of May 11, 2020
- Peer review begins: week of May 25, 2020
- Anticipated notice of decision: week of June 1, 2020
- Funding start date: May 1, 2020
How does this second COVID-19 rapid response competition compare with the first rapid response competition?
In the first competition, for which results were announced in March, the Government of Canada funded 99 projects for a total investment of $54.2M. Those projects, led by researchers across the country, focus on developing and implementing measures to rapidly detect, manage, and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Operationally, the second competition will be managed in a similar way as the first rapid response competition. As noted, the objectives and research areas have been refined to be applicable to key gaps and priorities relevant to the current COVID-19 context.
Additionally, CIHR plans to deliver on the following critical measures that will complement the first and subsequent rapid response competition:
Participation in Domestic and International Clinical Trials
CIHR will secure Canadian participation in domestic and international clinical trials that are responsive to WHO priorities, and that will increase the understanding of the efficacy and effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutics, and clinical and public health management approaches to COVID-19. CIHR will support clinical trials that touch on all three stages of viral infection including systemic spread by blood, entry into the cell through a receptor with structural modifications, and taking over the genetic machinery of the cell to replicate. Given the fact that recent government investments in industry-led research focused predominantly on systemic spread by blood, these additional investments in research will increase our understanding of the viral infection process and will greatly contribute to broadening the range of solutions to fight this virus.
Accelerate ethics review process
CIHR, working in collaboration with Health Canada, plans to dedicate $500,000 in funding to ethics research and review processes and structures that can accelerate the launch of promising multi-site, multi-jurisdictional research including clinical trials across Canada on vaccine, therapeutics, clinical management, and public health.
Establishment of a Centre for Pandemic Preparedness and Health Emergencies Research – also referred to as “The Centre.” Although additional funds and further collaborative efforts with our partners at various levels of government will be required in the near future, CIHR plans to invest $1M to establish the Centre as quickly as possible and leverage the current rapid response capacity on COVID-19. In the medium and long term, the Centre will facilitate a nimble Canadian infrastructure for domestic and global pandemic research coordination.
Mental Health and Substance Use Research
CIHR will invest in mental health and problematic substance use research and knowledge translation. In order to inform this initiative, CIHR has established an Expert Advisory Panel on mental health and system response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The panel advises on the rapid synthesis of evidence on effective virtual mental health service delivery models, including those supporting vulnerable populations and Indigenous communities. It also advises on the mobilization of emerging surveillance and research evidence to inform innovations in crisis mental health responses and services (i.e., strategies to promote health care worker and community level resilience, reduce anxiety and improve effective communication). The panel is co-chaired by Drs. Catherine Zahn (CAMH) and Samuel Weiss (CIHR) and provides advice directly from field and research experts for use by government policy and decision-makers as they design and deploy further coordinated mental health and substance use responses to COVID-19. Work is already well underway to coordinate with federal partners at PHAC and HC, as well as with fellow CIHR Institutes.
Through multiple competitions, funding will be made available for research on the mental health and substance use response to COVID-19 including: knowledge translation approaches and tools; population-based interventions; targeted interventions; and innovative surveillance and monitoring.
The first funding opportunity, anticipated to launch in the coming days, is for knowledge synthesis grants. This funding will support the rapid synthesis and knowledge mobilization plans to address evidence gaps and build the evidence base as part of the mental health and substance use response to COVID-19.
The second funding opportunity will support operating grants and is anticipated to launch within the next month. This funding will support implementation science and population-level intervention research to address the impacts of COVID-19 and containment measures on mental health and substance use.
Why is CIHR funding research on the mental health and substance use response to COVID-19?
Currently, Canadians may be experiencing a high degree of uncertainty, worry, anxiety and stress about the health and safety of their loved ones and how COVID-19 may disrupt their work and personal lives. The mental health and substance use response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been identified as a priority area to mitigate the downstream impacts of public health countermeasures to address COVID-19 and improve the health and well-being of Canadians.
This work complements CIHR’s existing efforts to mobilize high quality science to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, through CIHR’s first COVID-19 competition, the Government of Canada funded 99 projects for a total investment of $54.2M. These projects are led by researchers across the country and focus on developing and implementing measures to rapidly detect, manage, and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
What are the expected research areas to be funded through these mental health focused competitions?
Funding will be provided through multiple competitions to address COVID-19 mental health and substance use responses, focusing on:
- Knowledge translation approaches, practices and platforms applied to inform both population-level and targeted mental health and substance use responses during the pandemic. This includes resilience and wellness responses/approaches;
- Population-based interventions to reduce potential mental health and substance use impacts of COVID-19 caused by factors including but not limited to: prolonged periods of social isolation, unexpected employment disruptions, school closures, financial distress, and changes to routine;
- Targeted interventions to address the mental health and substance use issues and needs of high-risk groups, including but not limited to: front line medical workers, first responders, essential services personnel, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, individuals who use substances, the homeless, recent immigrants and newcomers to Canada (including refugees), victims of domestic violence, children and youth, aging populations in assisted living and long-term care facilities and their caregivers, individuals with disabilities, and individuals experiencing complicated grief.
- Innovative surveillance and monitoring in both the general Canadian population and amongst high-risk groups to assess mental health and substance use needs and system transformations, including the use of learning health systems, other modes of service delivery (e.g., virtual care), alternate remuneration models, etc.
What is the difference between the first and the second mental health competitions?
Two competitions will be launched.
- Knowledge synthesis grants: The first competition will support the rapid synthesis and knowledge mobilization plans to address evidence gaps and build the evidence base as part of the mental health and substance use response to COVID-19. This competition will be launched first and is expected to be completed within one month of the funding start date.
- Operating grants: The second competition will support implementation science and population-level intervention research to address the impacts of COVID-19 and containment measures on mental health and substance use. This includes, but is not limited to, anxiety, mental health and substance use challenges associated with prolonged periods of social isolation, unexpected employment disruptions, or precarious work conditions/environments, changes to routine for parents and children, as well as stress among health care workers and essential service providers; and implementation and dissemination of research to inform crisis/disaster mental health and substance use system response. The operating grants are expected to be launched within a month after the launch of the knowledge synthesis grants.
Will research teams focus on specific populations?
Researchers are encouraged to consider priority populations that may face unique contexts, challenges, and conditions of marginalization. Targeted interventions to address the mental health and substance use issues and needs of high-risk groups will be supported in these competitions. This includes but is not limited to: front line medical workers, first responders, essential services personnel, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, individuals who use substances, the homeless, recent immigrants and newcomers to Canada, victims of domestic violence, children and youth, aging populations in assisted living and long-term care facilities and their caregivers, individuals with disabilities, and individuals experiencing complicated grief.
How can I learn more about CIHR’s efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Please consult this webpage for all COVID-19 information related to CIHR or email EHTRF-FRNMS@cihr-irsc.gc.ca
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