CIHR supports research targeting high impact infectious diseases

Feb 17, 2023

VIDO’s scientists, Drs Neeraj Dhar and Alyson Kelvin, were awarded support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Project Grant Fall 2022 Competition to target priority human diseases. Their projects focus on COVID-19 and tuberculosis—the first and second leading infectious killers globally, and mpox virus which is labeled a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization. The research will take place in VIDO’s high containment facility, one of the largest and most advanced facilities in the world.

Funded projects:

Prospects for more new treatments for persistent TB

In 2021, over 10 million people developed tuberculosis (TB) and 1.6 million lives were lost to the disease. Although TB is curable, the long treatment regimen is challenging and can lead to non-compliance, treatment failure, and the development of drug resistance. This prolonged treatment is necessary because the TB bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) can ‘persist’ and survive exposure to high concentrations of antibiotics.

Previous studies show TB bacteria surviving in the lungs following treatment are extremely diverse—which can drive the development of drug-tolerant subpopulations. A team led by Dr. Neeraj Dhar will characterize the diversity of these ‘persisting’ mycobacterial subpopulations during infection. These studies will provide a better understanding of persistent TB bacteria and inform the design of faster and more effective therapeutic regimens.

Preclinical models for mpox virus infection and therapeutic development

Mpox virus (formerly monkeypox virus) is a spreading emerging virus. This virus causes significant disease with painful lesions and sometimes death often in vulnerable populations such as the young and immunocompromised. Vaccines against smallpox (another orthopoxvirus) are being used to try to limit disease spread, but their effectiveness is not entirely known.

Dr. Alyson Kelvin will lead the development of a mpox preclinical animal model at VIDO. This project will provide an essential research tool for Canadian scientists and vaccine and therapeutic developers. As well, the results will be important for guiding public health policies to control the outbreak. Mpox is a new research area for VIDO and highlights the value of our level 3 facility and expertise in responding to emerging infectious diseases – contributing to national security.

Developing next generation broadly protective coronavirus vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines have decreased disease burden, but available vaccines have demonstrated reduced protection against emerging variants. The development goal of next generation coronavirus vaccines is to achieve broader and longer protection against a range of coronaviruses.

Dr. Kelvin’s team will develop broadly protective coronavirus vaccines and evaluate these candidates for their mechanisms of action, effectiveness, and duration of immunity. This work could be applied to the development of broadly protective vaccines for other large groups of viruses, such as influenza, with the ultimate goal of having next generation vaccines to prevent future pandemics.

Click to read more about the recent USask funding from CIHR.