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U of M researchers join group to better prepare Canada for another pandemic

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Researchers at the University of Manitoba are a part of a group working to help Canada be better prepared for a pandemic by focusing on a bottleneck exposed by COVID-19.

Out of his lab at the U of M, Virologist Jason Kindrachuk has worked on understanding infectious diseases like Ebola, monkey pox and COVID-19.

As that work soldiers on, he's now joining forces with colleagues in other prairie provinces.

"Rather than having independent entities that are really working towards solving the same problem but not really sharing ideas, now we are actually coming together," said Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada research chair for emerging viruses at the university.

Together the universities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Calgary and Alberta make up the Canada Biomedical Research Fund (CBRF) prairie hub.

Its goal is to build pandemic preparedness in Canada.

"Many people may recall there was a big wait time to get vaccines when they were available around the world and other people had access to this," said Joanne Lemieux, a biochemistry professor at the University of Alberta and the CBRF Prairie Hub scientific director.

Lemieux said the hub will help scientists coordinate with manufacturers and train people to get vaccines, drugs and testing out more quickly when the next outbreak hits Canada, which she said could be another coronavirus, a strain of influenza or a different virus.

"One of the issues with the last pandemic is that we did not have capacity to make our own vaccines as this was one of the bottlenecks and so what we need to do in Canada is ensure we have the capacity for bio manufacturing," Lemieux said.

One asset Manitoba brings to the table, Lemieux says, is the National Microbiology Lab.

Kindrachuk said another is an already established international research network.

"What we bring is not only the expertise on the group in Manitoba," he said. "But also all of our expertise and our connections that we have from working in the areas that quite frankly are the most vulnerable in the world for emerging infectious diseases."

From his experience, he said having a good defence is more important than a great offence.

There are a total of five research hubs being set up in Canada with $10 million from the federal government.

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