Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence and Innovation in Infectious Diseases awarded $72 million to strengthen talent development and health intelligence
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May 6, 2024

By Betty Zou

Four research programs in the Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence and Innovation in Infectious Diseases (HI3) have received $72 million in federal funding from the Canada Biomedical Research Fund (CBRF) and Biomedical Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF), bolstering the country’s biomanufacturing capacity and readiness to respond to emerging health threats.

Support for HI3 and the four funded research programs through the CBRF and BRIF is part of a larger investment in Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy. The strategy aims to grow a strong, competitive domestic life sciences sector with cutting-edge biomanufacturing capabilities and to improve the country’s ability to respond to future health challenges. HI3 was one of five national hubs established in March 2023 with CBRF funding.

Together, these four awarded programs will provide critical health intelligence data to guide the co-development of health threat surveillance platforms and next-generation precision interventions by the hub’s academic and industry partners, while building a highly skilled workforce to support Canada’s growing biomanufacturing and life sciences sector.

“With world-leading scientists and researchers established across Canadian leading research institutions, Canada is home to a competitive and robust biomanufacturing and life sciences sector. We made a promise to Canadians that we would rebuild the domestic sector. With this investment, our government is delivering on this promise by supporting the excellent innovations, collaborations and infrastructures necessary to rapidly respond to future public health threats and keep Canadians safe,” says the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry for Canada.

“Congratulations to HI3 and the collaborative teams behind these CBRF-funded programs. These four programs leverage the tremendous expertise of the University of Toronto’s researchers and our partners in academia, hospitals, industry and other sectors to develop the talent, tools and data required to be at the forefront of emerging health threats,” says Leah Cowen, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives.

“On behalf of the University of Toronto and HI3, I thank the government of Canada for their investment in building a strong domestic life sciences sector ready to take on the health challenges of today and tomorrow.”

One of the CBRF-funded programs is the Biomanufacturing Hub Network (BioHubNet), an immersive talent development program based at the University of Toronto led by U of T University Professor Molly Shoichet along with Darius Rackus, an assistant professor of chemistry and biology at Toronto Metropolitan University, and Gilbert Walker, a professor of chemistry at U of T.

According to a national 2021 report from BioTalent Canada, the current predicted supply of biomanufacturing workers is only enough to fill one-quarter of the positions that will be needed in the sector by 2029.

To address the severe shortage of workplace-ready talent, BioHubNet will leverage its 26 industry and training partners, which include multinational and homegrown biotechnology companies as well as five Ontario colleges. With nearly $19 million from CBRF, BioHubNet will work closely with these partners to develop a range of training programs and curricula that provide experiential, hands-on learning to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and others who are ready to transition to industry. Additionally, the program will outfit entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to commercialize their lab-based innovations, further strengthening the translational pipeline. Over the next four years, BioHubNet will produce close to 1,000 highly skilled workers through micro-credential courses, industry internships, academic exchange placements and entrepreneurial training.

A central tenet underlying all BioHubNet’s offerings is a commitment to create more equitable and inclusive participation in the biomanufacturing and life sciences sectors through intentional recruitment and active support for trainees from underrepresented groups.

“Canada’s future as a leader in bio-innovation depends on having highly qualified workers, yet the sector is predicted to face severe workforce shortages in the coming years,” says Shoichet, who is the Michael E Charles Professor in Chemical Engineering at U of T and scientific director of PRiME Next-Generation Precision Medicine, based at U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“By expanding the pipeline of skilled research talent in Canada, BioHubNet will accelerate the translation of promising discoveries from bench to market and ensure that this country’s biomanufacturing sector continues to grow and attract further international investment.”

In addition to BioHubNet, three other research programs were also funded:

All four research programs reflect the hub’s extensive network of nearly 100 partners from academia, hospital, industry, public and other sectors. The programs leverage the collective resources and expertise of this network, including U of T’s position as a global leader in artificial intelligence, data and life sciences and engineering, and the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network’s strong track record of clinical impact and health care innovation.

“Our goal at HI3 is to advance mission-driven, team-based science that will help Canada be more prepared, resilient and independent in the face of emerging health threats,” says Jen Gommerman, co-director of HI3 and a professor of immunology at U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.  

“As we support and grow these four research programs, we will continue to work closely with our hub partners and with our counterparts across the country to ensure that we have the capacity and resources needed to respond in a coordinated, effective and equitable manner.”

The HI3 hub is also co-led by Scott Gray-Owen, a professor of molecular genetics at U of T, and academic director of the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium.