$5.1 million given to UBC to pursue coronavirus research

Mar 25 2020, 2:50 pm

The federal government has provided researchers at the University of British Columbia with a total of $5.1 million in funding towards research on detecting, managing, and reducing the transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

UBC researchers were initially provided with $2.8 million on March 6, but that has since been topped off with an additional $2.3 million, as of this week. The funding will be split amongst research teams led by Dr. Richard Lester, Dr. Srinivas Murthy, Natalie Prystajecky and Dr. Mel Krajden, Yue Qian, Horacio Bach, Artem Cherkasov, Eric Jan, Jeffrey Joy, and Dr. James Russell.

“We are very grateful for this additional investment through the federal government’s emergency research funding,” said Gail Murphy, UBC vice-president of research and innovation, in a statement.

“This provides researchers at UBC and across the country with resources to gain critical insights into COVID-19 and help to develop treatments and prevent its spread.”

This includes $999,000 using artificial intelligence to perform “deep docking” research that identifies the compounds that could potentially inhibit the main enzyme that allows SARS-CoV-2 virus — the scientific name of the COVID-19 virus — to survive.

“Deep docking allows our team to rapidly identify small anti-viral drug molecules in an extremely condensed timeframe,” said Cherkasov. “In fact, our first application of the algorithm this month enabled the screening of 1.3 billion commercially available compounds against the novel coronavirus virus in one week — a process that would have taken three years using conventional methods.”

Another team will use $396,000 to develop antibodies to neutralize and block the entrance of the coronavirus into cells, with testing to be performed on mice.

Research that works to engineer decoy protein sequences to block the ability of the virus to function will receive $331,000, while other research that compares the SARS-CoV-2 genome with the genomes of other coronaviruses will receive $315,000.

One team’s funding of $256,000 will be used to study the safety and effectiveness of drugs commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure and diabetes to improve the health outcomes of coronavirus patients. This research also aims to uncover why COVID-19 appears to affect the elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions the most.

A team that is looking into the mental health impacts of prolonged quarantine will receive $400,000.

And $955,000 will be provided to the UBC team that is leading a national study of hospitalized patients with the coronavirus, with their research focusing on how best to treat the disease. Their work will also be used to develop formal treatment guidelines for the World Health Organization.

To date, the federal government has allocated $52.6 million to support the coronavirus research of 96 teams across the country.

The federal government’s direct budget of $1.1 billion to fight coronavirus includes $275 million for all research endeavours, including work towards developing improved treatments and a vaccine.