Leadership Awards for Excellence in Vaccine Research

Preparing for and responding to current and emerging infectious disease threats is an enduring priority of the Institute of Infection and Immunity (III) — and its importance has been heightened by COVID-19. This initiative aligns with III’s Strategic Goals of Global Health and Building Careers, as described in III’s Strategic Plan 2021–2026. It supports the career development of mid-career researchers and will contribute to national and international efforts to prevent and prepare for future global health threats and position Canada as a leader in this research area. In 2022, we funded six Canadian mid-career researchers to pursue vaccine research projects in epidemic and pandemic preparedness, five in collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

CIHR-CEPI Leadership Award for Excellence in Vaccine Research for Infectious Diseases of Epidemic Potential

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

CEPI is a world leader in supporting research into vaccine development and enabling equitable access to vaccines. They have an ambitious plan to push the bounds of vaccine research and development to help eliminate the risk of future epidemics and pandemics. This funding opportunity leverages Canadian expertise in the vaccine sciences to accelerate the development of CEPI’s vaccine candidates and rapid-response technologies. Through this funding opportunity, Canadian mid-career researchers will be integrated into CEPI’s team to build and share cutting-edge skills and technologies across CEPI and its network. They will connect with global experts and promote Canadian innovation to help prevent future epidemics and pandemics.

Harnessing memory T cells to improve vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants

“I feel excited and privileged to be honoured by this CIHR-CEPI award. This collaborative study will examine how protective T-cell memory to SARS-CoV-2 infection is maintained and will lead to the development of new molecular tools to track these memory T cells through time in large cohorts of infected or vaccinated individuals.”

Dr. Hélène Decaluwe
Clinician Scientist, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre
Associate Clinical Professor, Université de Montréal

We will study the dynamics and longevity of memory T cells to SARS-CoV-2 variants from natural infection and vaccination. This will inform on the immunogenicity of different vaccines vs. specific SARS-CoV-2 variants and how to support effective, long lasting T cell immunity in vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants and a future universal coronavirus vaccine.

A universal coronavirus vaccine

“This is truly a dream. For years I aimed to decrease the global burden of respiratory viruses through vaccine research. Now the support from CEPI, CIHR, and VIDO, will increase the potential of my work on pan-coronavirus vaccines preventing infection of many viruses with one shot.”

Dr. Alyson Ann Kelvin
Scientist II, VIDO (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization), University of Saskatchewan

We will collaborate with researchers and vaccine developers in Rwanda and Bangladesh to understand vaccine challenges in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and design and evaluate a universal coronavirus vaccine. A universal vaccine offers a solution not only to the diversity of current and future coronaviruses but also for vaccine procurement and deployment issues affecting LMICs.

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Enhancing COVID-19 vaccines through humoral immunity

“This is a great opportunity for collaboration between Canadian researchers and the global research community to improve COVID-19 vaccines and future pandemic responses by improving our understanding of vaccine immunity.”

Dr. Manish Sadarangani
Director, Vaccine Evaluation Center, BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute
Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia

We will compare antibody responses after different COVID-19 vaccines and after SARS-CoV-2 infection in adults and children from existing Canadian cohorts. This will provide insights on the mechanisms of vaccine protection and how we might improve responses to COVID-19 vaccines by modifying their design, including the potential use of adjuvants.

New animal model for Lassa Fever pathogenesis and vaccine studies

“In partnership with CEPI and CIHR, we aim to develop T-cell depletion models for the study of Lassa virus pathogenesis. These studies are the first step in improving our understanding on how a made-in-Canada Lassa fever vaccine elicits protection from Lassa virus infection.”

Dr. David Safronetz
Adjunct Professor, University of Manitoba
Chief of Special Pathogens, Public Health Agency of Canada

We will characterize a unique non-human primate depletion model for studying Lassa virus, which causes Lassa Fever. This model will increase our understanding of the role of T cells in viral pathogenesis and will be useful for future therapeutic and vaccine studies against Lassa Fever.

Building global capacity for vaccine safety evaluation

“I’m grateful to CIHR and CEPI for this funding which will enable us to study the causes and risk factors for rare adverse events following COVID-19 vaccination in patients from around the world to ultimately help make vaccines even safer.”

Dr. Karina Top
Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
Investigator, Canadian Centre for Vaccinology

Working with the Brighton Collaboration, we will expand the reach of the “first-of-its-kind” International Network of Special Immunization Services (INSIS). By making INSIS truly global we can address the critical gap for investigators of rare adverse events of special interest in low- and middle-income countries and build capacity for vaccine safety evaluation across the world.

CIHR Leadership Award for Excellence in Vaccine Research for Infectious Diseases of Epidemic Potential

CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

This award recognizes the research achievements of mid-career Canadian investigators who are on track for, or have already achieved, international leadership in vaccine research for infectious diseases. III is providing grant funding to outstanding researchers pursuing vaccine research to prevent and prepare for future infectious disease threats of epidemic or pandemic potential.

Optimizing a novel adjuvant for pandemic preparedness

“We want to have our vaccine adjuvant. That is capable of reducing virus transmission. Ready for the next pandemic. Sitting on the shelf. Stable. Ready to go. For a subunit vaccine for you.”

Dr. Darryl Falzarano
Principal Scientist, VIDO (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization), University of Saskatchewan
Adjunct Professor, University of Saskatchewan

We will optimize and characterize a novel combination adjuvant to enhance immune responses and protection for numerous vaccine concepts including a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. This development will move this adjuvant to a potential pandemic preparedness tool against future emerging infectious threats.

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