In conversation with Mark Daley on the CanCOVID platform

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Compute Canada and its regional partners, ACENET, Calcul Québec, Compute Ontario, and WestGrid, will be highlighting the work of Canadian researchers who are working tirelessly to develop solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

See our original blog post here, Celebrating Researchers Working on COVID-19 

COVID-19 researchers can find out more about accessing ARC resources and expertise, HERE. 

Previously, we spoke to Dr. Guillaume Bourque about COVID-19 Resources Canada. In our second spotlight in the series, we spoke to Mark Daley, Special Advisor to the President (Data Strategy) & Associate Professor at Western University, and Board Chair at Compute Ontario, about CanCOVID. To read the official press release, please click here.

Can you tell us more about CanCOVID and how it came about?

Dr. Mona Nemer, the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, mandated the creation of a platform of Canadian COVID-19 researchers, clinical collaborators, and healthcare stakeholders from across the country. She asked Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Health Canada Science Advisor, and Dr. Sarah Gallagher, Canadian Space Agency Science Advisor, to look into ways of helping the research and science community coordinate itself. This was essential to accelerate collaboration between the scientific, healthcare and policy communities to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

CanCOVID came on the heels of a grassroots interest in Canada to help out with the pandemic, but with no real means of coordinating or collaborating with other researchers. So, Sarah and Cara reached out to me, and Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Associate VP International Partnerships, University of Toronto, and we started to build this platform immediately because we recognized this had to happen extremely quickly.

We got the support of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities in the last week of March. We got in touch with Slack to see if they would support an enterprise platform for CanCOVID, and they very generously donated that to the initiative. So, what you see today is a result of the collaboration between all these stakeholders. We already have over 1,000 active members.

Who can use CanCOVID and how?

Any Canadian researcher who is working on topics related to COVID-19, and that could be everything from virologists to public health physicians to people looking at the social-cultural ramifications of pandemics. For instance, one of the tragic side effects of quarantine is the increase in morbidity and mortality related to partner violence. People who previously had ways of escaping abusive situations are for now locked down in an abusive environment. So, researchers working on the whole spectrum of studies related to pandemics and COVID-19 are invited to use the platform.

Researchers who hold a grant through the CIHR to do COVID related research were invited to the platform, but any researcher could go to the website (cancovid.ca) and fill out a form for access to the platform. The bar for access is low, but we do verify that you are a researcher for security reasons.

CanCOVID is a collaboration between representatives from across the higher-ed sector, including the Tri-agency, universities, the federal government and U15. Can you speak more about the role of each of the stakeholders involved in the creation of CanCOVID?

The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, the universities themselves, Chief Science Adviser, are leading this effort with much support from the Ministry of Health, and the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Everyone has been fantastically supportive while keeping this a bottom-up grassroots effort. I’m very grateful to all the stakeholders involved and the Canadian research community for their efforts and support.

Over the last few months, Canadian researchers and innovators have joined forces to create solutions to minimize the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is needed to support and mobilize the resources available at CanCOVID?

Getting the word out to the research community is essential. The platform provides an environment for people to communicate with each other and potentially collaborate. The more people engage with the platform, the more opportunities we will have for communication and potential collaboration. So, please share information with your colleagues whom you think would benefit from knowing of this.

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