Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence and Innovation in Infectious Diseases awarded $72 million

Federal funding will be used to strengthen talent development and health intelligence in order to respond to emerging health threats
Two students work under a fume hood at a U of T lab

(photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Four research programs in the Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence and Innovation in Infectious Diseases (HI3) have received $72 million in federal funding from the Canada Biomedical Research Fund (CBRF) and Biomedical Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF), bolstering the country’s biomanufacturing capacity and readiness to respond to emerging health threats.

Support for HI3 and the four funded research programs through the CBRF and BRIF is part of a larger investment in Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy. The strategy aims to grow a strong, competitive domestic life sciences sector with cutting-edge biomanufacturing capabilities and to improve the country’s ability to respond to future health challenges.

HI3 – a coalition of 87 academic, hospital, research networks, industry, government, not-for-profit and community partners – was one of five national hubs established in March 2023 with CBRF funding.

Together, the four awarded programs will provide critical health intelligence data to guide the co-development of health threat surveillance platforms and next-generation precision interventions by the hub’s academic and industry partners, while building a highly skilled workforce to support Canada’s growing biomanufacturing and life sciences sector.

“Congratulations to HI3 and the collaborative teams behind these CBRF-funded programs. These four programs leverage the tremendous expertise of the University of Toronto's researchers and our partners in academia, hospitals, industry and other sectors to develop the talent, tools and data required to be at the forefront of emerging health threats,” said Leah Cowen, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives.

“On behalf of the University of Toronto and HI3, I thank the government of Canada for its investment in building a strong domestic life sciences sector ready to take on the health challenges of today and tomorrow.”

One of the CBRF-funded programs is the Biomanufacturing Hub Network (BioHubNet), an immersive talent development program based at U of T and led by University Professor Molly Shoichet along with Darius Rackus, an assistant professor of chemistry and biology at Toronto Metropolitan University, and Gilbert Walker, a professor of chemistry at U of T.

“With world-leading scientists and researchers established across Canadian leading research institutions, Canada is home to a competitive and robust biomanufacturing and life sciences sector. We made a promise to Canadians that we would rebuild the domestic sector,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry. “With this investment, our government is delivering on this promise by supporting the excellent innovations, collaborations and infrastructures necessary to rapidly respond to future public health threats and keep Canadians safe.”

The predicted supply of biomanufacturing workers is only enough to fill one-quarter of the positions that will be needed in the sector by 2029, according to a 2021 report from BioTalent Canada.

To address the shortage, BioHubNet will leverage its 26 industry and training partners – which include multinational and homegrown biotechnology companies, as well as five Ontario colleges and nearly $19 million in funding from CBRF – to develop a range of training programs and curricula that provide experiential, hands-on learning to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and others who are ready to transition to industry.

The program will also outfit entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to commercialize their lab-based innovations, further strengthening the translational pipeline. Over the next four years, BioHubNet will produce close to 1,000 highly skilled workers through micro-credential courses, industry internships, academic exchange placements and entrepreneurial training.

A central tenet underlying all BioHubNet’s offerings is a commitment to create more equitable and inclusive participation in the biomanufacturing and life sciences sectors through intentional recruitment and active support for trainees from under-represented groups.

“Canada’s future as a leader in bio-innovation depends on having highly qualified workers, yet the sector is predicted to face severe workforce shortages in the coming years,” says Shoichet, who is the Michael E Charles Professor in Chemical Engineering at U of T and scientific director of PRiME Next-Generation Precision Medicine, a U of T institutional strategic initiative based at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“By expanding the pipeline of skilled research talent in Canada, BioHubNet will accelerate the translation of promising discoveries from bench to market and ensure that this country’s biomanufacturing sector continues to grow and attract further international investment.”

In addition to BioHubNet, three other research programs were also funded:

  • The Integrated Network for the Surveillance of Pathogens: Increasing Resilience and capacity in Canada’s pandemic response (INSPIRE) based at the University of Windsor. Co-led by Windsor professor Mike McKay and University of Guelph professor Lawrence Goodridge, the INSPIRE program leverages community-level wastewater surveillance data, infrastructure and expertise to monitor the arrival and spread of infectious threats. The program also received infrastructure funding from BRIF to implement technologies and processes across its network that will streamline wastewater surveillance efforts to be more rapid, agile and sensitive. Importantly, these infrastructure supports will expand wastewater monitoring capacity in northern Ontario and at the Windsor-Detroit border to strengthen supply chains.
  • The Prepare, React, Collect, Innovate, Share and Engage (PRECISE) Diagnostic Platform, based at Sinai Health and co-led by Jennie Johnstone and Anne-Claude Gingras – who are both faculty members in U of T’s Faculty of Medicine – will advance a comprehensive, streamlined approach for responding to emerging threats by driving the timely development of rapid diagnostic tools that will scale up testing capacity and reduce reliance on global supply chains.
  • The Pandemic Preparedness Engaging Primary Care and Emergency Departments (PREPARED) program, based at Unity Health Toronto and led by Andrew Pinto, who is a faculty member in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, aims to engage primary care clinics and emergency departments across the country to enhance disease monitoring, improve patient care and health system efficiency, accelerate the development of medical countermeasures and boost recruitment to clinical trials.  

All four research programs reflect the hub’s extensive network of nearly 100 partners from academia, hospital, industry, public and other sectors. The programs leverage the collective resources and expertise of this network, including U of T’s position as a global leader in artificial intelligence, data, life sciences and engineering, and the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network’s strong track record of clinical impact and health-care innovation.

“Our goal at HI3 is to advance mission-driven, team-based science that will help Canada be more prepared, resilient and independent in the face of emerging health threats,” said Jen Gommerman, co-director of HI3 and a professor of immunology in U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.  

“As we support and grow these four research programs, we will continue to work closely with our hub partners and with our counterparts across the country to ensure that we have the capacity and resources needed to respond in a co-ordinated, effective and equitable manner.”