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Two COVID-19 research projects from St. Michael’s receive federal funding

Toronto, March 6, 2020

By Ana Gajic

Two projects led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital have received federal funding to support research on the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease produced by the most recently discovered coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization, there have been more than 95,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including more than four dozen in Canada.

In response to the global outbreak, the CIHR has funded 47 projects through the Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Committee, including, two led by St. Michael’s researchers.

The Government of Canada is providing the funding for this research 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).

Molecular and cellular therapies against COVID-19 using angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)

Led by: Dr. Haibo Zhang, scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science


Dr. Haibo Zhang

With this project, Dr. Zhang and his team — which includes Dr. Arthur Slutsky, scientist at the Keenan — aim to test a potential treatment for COVID-19 and better understand the way in which the disease develops. Through lab testing, using human tissue and conducting clinical trials, the team — which also includes Prof. Josef Penninger from the University of British Columbia and Prof. Ali Mirazimi from the Karolinska Institute (Sweden) — hopes to evaluate a potential medication.

“We have put together a world-class international research team of basic scientists and clinicians with a track record of working together successfully, who have access to a clinical-grade drug that has been tested in Phase II trials, human engineered organoids and patients to investigate a novel therapy in the fight against COVID-19,” Dr. Zhang said.

This expedited support from CIHR will provide the team with timely resources to explore precision medicine in the potential treatment of this disease.

Acute Respiratory Mortality Surveillance (ARMS) for Coronavirus Infection (COVID-19): A globally relevant technology to strengthen mortality surveillance for acute respiratory deaths in many countries lacking complete medical certification of death

Led by: Dr. Prabhat Jha, Director of the Centre for Global Health Research


Dr. Prabhat Jha

Dr. Jha and his team aim to build on their experience using verbal autopsy in the long-running Indian Million Death Study, and ongoing studies in China, Hong Kong, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone to develop an enhanced verbal autopsy module to identify deaths from COVID-19. This project will serve as a model for the next novel pathogen and provide as near as possible to real-time updates in settings without routine medical certification of death.

“The death rate from COVID-19 is one of the main unknowns,” Dr. Jha said. “We think that this CIHR funding will help us prepare a rapid mortality surveillance tool to detect COVID-19 deaths, especially in Asia and Africa where most deaths still occur at home.”

Using an "Acute Respiratory Mortality Surveillance" (ARMS) module could contribute to ending the current outbreak and creating new surveillance tools. All materials and results from this project will also be made available globally to ensure the broadest use.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.


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