U of T to host science-to-policy COVID platform

August 26, 2020

Professor Vivek Goel of IHPME is the scientific advisor for CanCOVID, a science-to-policy network.

Two University of Toronto faculty members will lead the secretariat for Canada’s primary 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 policymaking.

Prof. Vivek Goel of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health’s Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation (IHPME) will serve as Network Scientific Advisor for the CanCOVID science-to-policy network. Prof. Julia Zarb, also of IHPME, will be its academic and Managing Director. Together, they will run the network’s secretariat, which 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,” notes Prof. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, the Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “With years of experience in government, academia and management, Vivek and Julia are superb choices to lead this secretariat.”

The Government of Canada 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 coordination and providing a base of evidence to help Canada navigate its way out of the COVID crisis.

“Investments in science and research are key to our government’s response to COVID-19,” says the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “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, who 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 frontlines.

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

With this 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 COVID19 Resources platform and IHPME’s Rapid Evidence Access Link (REAL) network, which both also originated as a COVID-19 response effort.

“REAL was developed by students disrupted in their academic pathways as a result of COVID-19 related constraints. 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,” says Professor Zarb. “REAL will enhance CanCOVID’s digital capability and capacity to ensure we meet our science-to-policy goals.”

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, notes that “Canada’s scientific expertise will help carry us through the COVID-19 pandemic. Initiatives like CanCOVID brings communities of experts together to share their knowledge and collaborate. Supporting engagement amongst scientists and researchers can help save lives, provide Canadians with science-based, credible information from trusted sources and to help us prepare for the future.”