New infectious disease R&D grant opportunity launches for Canadian researchers

Jodie Rogers
Update 12 May 2021:
The deadline for submissions for the CIHR-CEPI Leadership Award for Excellence in Vaccine Research for Infectious Diseases of Epidemic Potential funding opportunity has been extended to 9 July 2021 so that women, men, racialised researchers and others affected by COVID-19 have more time to apply.
Given the lack of gender equity and diversity in the applications submitted even though interest prior to the deadline reflected otherwise, the extended deadline aims to open up the funding opportunity to a wider and more diverse pool of candidates. It also considers the current reality whereby some applicants may have been affected in some capacity by COVID-19 during the original application timeline and may have therefore not submitted their proposals. The decision to extend the submission deadline for this competition does not reflect the quality of the applications submitted.
Applications will open again on 14 May 2021. Further information on the extension to the submission deadline can be found on the CIHR website.

CEPI and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Infection and Immunity (CIHR-III), one of the 13 virtual institutes of Canada's federal funding agency for health research, CIHR, have today launched the CIHR-CEPI Leadership Award for Excellence in Vaccine Research for Infectious Diseases of Epidemic Potential funding opportunity.

The award is a new two-year grant funding opportunity for up to six independent mid-career researchers in Canada to pursue projects—co-developed alongside CEPI—to expedite the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The Request for Applications is now available on the CIHR-III website in English and in French.

A total of CAD 2.4 million (approx USD 1.89 million) will be made available by CEPI and CIHR-III for the grants, with the aim to leverage Canadian expertise to advance CEPI's efforts and promote the career development of researchers from Canadian academic institutions. With CEPI leading global efforts in COVID-19 vaccine R&D and playing a critical role in advancing vaccines against other emerging infectious diseases with epidemic potential, successful individuals will benefit from CEPI mentorship and insight into vaccine development and manufacturing efforts, active portfolio management, collaborative approach, and ongoing evaluation of lessons learned. Researchers will also have access to biological samples, innovative technologies, and collaborations between CEPI and its partners.

Scope of research grants

Scientific programmes funded as part of this joint opportunity should align with CEPI's work to advance vaccine R&D against its target diseases - COVID-19, Lassa fever, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Chikungunya, Nipah, Rift Valley fever, as well as Disease X which involves the development of platform technologies to rapidly respond to future novel or as-of-yet unidentified pathogens.

Proposals for research projects can cover one or more research areas from across the vaccine R&D spectrum: preclinical development and animal models, clinical immunology, epidemiology, diagnostics for use in low- and middle-income countries, and systems immunology and bioinformatics. While Ebola is listed as a priority disease on CEPI's website, it is not included in this funding opportunity. In addition, while the funding opportunity seeks to enhance CEPI's mission, the commitment to enable equitable access to vaccines for people during outbreaks may be beyond the scope of the 2-year research project timeline.

The incredible progress made in developing COVID-19 vaccines in this last year is a testimony to the success of the investments made in pandemic preparedness programs. CIHR-III is very pleased to launch this new funding opportunity in partnership with CEPI, which will provide opportunities for Canadian infection and immunity mid-career researchers to lend their expertise to and benefit from participating in international efforts to develop vaccines for infectious diseases of epidemic potential.

We hope that this leadership opportunity will generate a lot of interest and uptake and contribute to Canada's capacity for pandemic preparedness.

Dr Charu KaushicDr Charu Kaushic

Today's ongoing and upcoming rollout of multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines around the world exemplifies the incredible level of progress and speed that can be achieved through research collaboration, allowing us to accelerate the field of vaccine development like never before. As we now enter a new and more complex phase of the pandemic, it is critical that we continue to support vaccine R&D projects to enable COVID-19 vaccination programmes to continue at speed and scale, while also keeping our attention on other emerging infectious diseases with epidemic potential.

This new funding opportunity with CIHR-III extends our ongoing partnership with Canada and allows us to leverage Canadian researchers' expertise to advance our efforts tackling both COVID-19 and other global health threats, at the same time as providing a platform to boost career development across the vaccine sciences.

Dr Mike WhelanDr Mike Whelan

Individuals interested in applying to this funding opportunity should go to the CIHR ResearchNet website for more information [in English and in French]. Applicants must provide evidence of their experience, expertise and collaboration that aligns with CEPI's mission and priority diseases and high-level details for a research concept. The deadline for applications is Tuesday 20 April (now extended to 9 July 2021).

As CIHR-III and CEPI champion equity, diversity, and inclusion in their work, individuals from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Applicants with the greatest potential to thrive through this CIHR-III-CEPI collaboration will be identified by peer reviewers. If successful, applicants will collaborate with CEPI to finalise a detailed research project plan beneficial for both parties.

On Thursday 4 March (1300-1430 ET), CEPI and CIHR-III will host a webinar (register online here) for potential applicants to find out more about the Leadership Award and CEPI's vaccine portfolio. Presentations will be in English followed by a Q+A session in English and French.

CEPI's partnership with Canada

Canada is a long-term supporter and sixth-largest investor in CEPI, having made significant financial commitments to CEPI shortly after the coalition's formation in 2017 and a follow-up donation in 2018. The Government of Canada also provided two financial contributions to support CEPI's response to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the European Commission's Coronavirus Response Global Pledging Conference. In December 2020, a further donation was made to fund CEPI's COVID-19 efforts as part of a wider investment in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

CEPI's response to COVID-19

In response to COVID-19, CEPI moved quickly and in collaboration with partners, investing in 11 diverse vaccine candidates, with nine remaining in active development. The goal is to support development of three safe and effective vaccines which can be made available to countries participating in COVAX, a global collaboration between CEPI, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to enable global equitable access to 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021 to end the acute phase of the pandemic. As part of this work, CEPI has made strategic investments in vaccine manufacturing, is investing in the ‘next generation' of vaccine candidates to give the world additional options to control COVID-19 in the future, and has established a centralised laboratory network to harmonise collection of data on COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials. Canadian-based Nexelis is one of the laboratories within the network, who, alongside Public Health England Porton Down (UK), have spearheaded the programme through sharing their advanced testing methodologies and key reagents with the other lab partners.