Ontario Premier Doug Ford shakes the hand of MPP Ross Romano at Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2018 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (BRIAN KELLY/THE SAULT STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK)
Several Ontario post-secondary institutions are receiving funding to help prevent, detect or treat COVID-19.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Colleges and Universities MPP Ross Romano announced Thursday that $7.2 million of the promised $20 million has been approved for a number of different projects under the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund. The fund will focus on research, such as vaccine development, diagnostics, drug trials and development and social sciences.
A total of 15 “high-quality and promising” proposals were submitted through the process and peer-reviewed by an evaluation committee.
The proposals include advance research for a vaccine by the University of Guelph, testing recovered COVID-19 patients for antibodies at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ont., and developing rapid testing methods at St. Joseph Hospital. They also include improving point-of-care testing, to be completed by the University of Ottawa, and examining the economic and social impacts of food businesses as they modified to adapt to COVID-19, among others.
A portion of the funds will be used to cover costs associated with licensing and commercialization, including patenting of the “valuable” intellectual property generated by successful projects to ensure any economic outcomes from these proposals benefit Ontario’s economy, the province says.
“Researchers in Ontario represent some of the best and brightest in the country and we are tapping into their expertise to find Ontario-based solutions to treat the infection and stop the spread of the virus,” Romano said.
Currently, Ontario has 22 clinical trials investigating COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. To date, 11 trials have been approved by Health Canada.
Algoma University and Sault College did not submit applications for program funding, Romano said.
Criteria included in the application process was that the research be specific to COVID-19 and that results can be determined within an 18-month period. Neither Sault Ste. Marie post-secondary institution currently has the ability for that kind of research.
Romano said he’d like to see the Sault post-secondary institutions get involved in research as a mental health and addictions training institute.
“That’s my goal for Sault Ste. Marie as an MPP and as a minister of colleges and universities,” he said. “I believe that will elevate Sault Ste. Marie in the research field and that mental health and addictions is an important area where that can be done with local partners.”
For the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, the emphasis is on developing research, treatment and cures.
“The key to getting things back to normal is funding a vaccine, a cure,” Ford said during the announcement. “Until then, our fight is not over.”
Romano said that the first phase of approvals follows an announcement four weeks ago in which the government said it would ante up an additional $20 million for research projects at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions.
Romano, during the premier’s daily briefing, said the money is designed to “empower, support and leverage the strengths and expertise” of Ontario’s post-secondary institutions.
The application approval process normally takes 12 to 18 months but was pushed through in just three weeks while maintaining the integrity of that process, Romano said during the announcement.
To date, more than 1,000 proposals have been received and Romano said he’s impressed with both the quantity and quality of applications.
“We will continue to review the proposals. This is the first phase. There is still more money in the fund and we expect to make other announcements shortly,” he said.
The modernization of the application process is something Romano wants to continue to see moving forward.
“I think COVID-19 has forced us to move quicker, but I think we have also been able to find more effective ways to do things as a result of COVID,” Romano said.
Since becoming minister of colleges and universities, Romano has urged post-secondary leaders to think outside the box and look for new opportunities that will put Ontario – and their home community – on the map.
The Ontario government says it believes that the skills exist in the province to develop solutions to the COVID-19 virus, which, in turn, will also help the economy as vaccines and other treatments are commercialized and adapted around the globe.