U of T experts to help lead national COVID-19 research network

Vivek goel and Julia Zarb
U of T's Vivek Goel (left) will serve as the CanCOVID network's scientific adviser while Julia Zarb (right) will be its academic and managing director (photos by Nick Iwanyshyn/courtesy of Julia Zarb)

Two University of Toronto faculty members will lead the secretariat for a platform that brings together more than 2,300 researchers from across the country to provide the federal government with the best evidence to inform COVID-19 policy-making.

Vivek Goel, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation (IHPME), will serve as network scientific adviser for the CanCOVID science-to-policy network. Julia Zarb, an assistant professor, teaching stream, at IHPME, will be its academic and managing director.

The network’s secretariat will be based at IHPME.

“The pandemic has shown the crucial importance of academic researchers with a deep knowledge of government, who can produce high-quality, actionable scientific data quickly,” said Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, in a statement.

“With years of experience in government, academia and management, Vivek and Julia are superb choices to lead this secretariat.” 

The Canadian government is investing $1.25 million to support the development of the transdisciplinary network, which was established in March with the goal of facilitating rapid scientific co-ordination and providing a base of evidence to help Canada respond to COVID-19.

“Investments in science and research are key to our government’s response to COVID-19,” said Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and Industry, in a statement. “By helping researchers from a broad range of disciplines come together to share information and develop solutions to COVID-19, we are ensuring that we have the strongest possible evidence base to help Canada safely navigate its way out of this pandemic.” 

The network links Canada’s researchers so they can collaborate across critical research and development areas – from trials and testing to diagnostics and treatment – using digital networking tools. They can also easily connect with others in their regional or local networks, and with clinicians on the front lines.

Researchers gather at a weekly seminar series, share briefing notes, state of the science reports and more. “We will work closely with the Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, in identifying the most critical questions needing to be addressed,” said Goel. “The complex problems that need to be addressed required collaboration across diverse disciplines, which we will facilitate.”

Read about a U of T researcher’s CanCOVID webinar on domestic violence

With its new funding support, CanCOVID will establish thematic research networks based on priorities developed in collaboration with the government. It will also develop partnerships with other networks such as the COVID-19 Resources platform and IHPME’s Rapid Evidence Access Link (REAL) network, which both also originated as part of a COVID-19 response effort.

“REAL was developed by students disrupted in their academic pathways as a result of COVID-19 related constraints,” said Zarb. “Understanding that we had the informatics skills to help safely and rapidly get emerging evidence into decision makers’ hands, we rallied to build a digital knowledge mobilization platform to fit the needs of this pandemic moment.

“REAL will enhance CanCOVID’s digital capability and capacity to ensure we meet our science-to-policy goals.”  

The Bulletin Brief logo

Subscribe to The Bulletin Brief

Dalla Lana/IHPME