A panel of experts called for sustained funding investments, stronger ready-to-use infrastructure and improved communications to help Canada break the cycle of panic and neglect around infectious diseases. These themes emerged from a discussion at the first annual Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium symposium held in mid-October. The panelists included Leah Cowen, vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives at the University of Toronto, Marisa Creatore, executive director of the Centre for Research on Pandemic Preparedness and Health Emergencies at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and U of T President Emeritus David Naylor.
It seems appropriate that the Toronto offices for Kamran Khan’s BlueDot, which uses artificial intelligence to flag potential infectious disease outbreaks around the world, are located at the edge of Lake Ontario. Similar to a lighthouse, BlueDot signals when there’s danger ahead. BlueDot’s intelligence platform combines a computer’s ability to understand human language, known as natural language understanding (NLU), and machine learning, a form of AI that imitates humans’ ability to learn and gradually become more accurate. The platform sorts through massive volumes of online information— ranging from news reports, social media sites, government websites, and more — from around the globe, in over 130 languages, every 15 minutes of every day.
On Friday, March 5, the World Health Organization declared the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency. We polled faculty members of the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC) and the Institute for Pandemics (IfP), two pandemic-focused Institutional Strategic Initiatives at the University of Toronto, to get their perspectives on the WHO’s decision and where we need to go from here.
A new national hub focused on enhancing Canada’s ability to respond quickly, effectively and equitably to future pandemics has become a reality with $2 million in funding from the Canada Biomedical Research Fund. Led and anchored by the University of Toronto, the Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence and Innovation in Infectious Diseases (HI3) is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary and multi-sector coalition of over 80 partners. It will provide a powerful network to support a robust domestic pipeline of life-saving vaccines and therapeutics targeting existing and emerging infectious threats.