Canadian Immunization Research Network receives $10 million from Government of Canada

- June 5, 2017

Dr. Scott Halperin, principal investigator of the Canadian Immunization Research Network. (Allison Young photo)
Dr. Scott Halperin, principal investigator of the Canadian Immunization Research Network. (Allison Young photo)

A Dalhousie led research network that helps inform public health policy on vaccines and vaccination programs has received over $10 million in renewal funding from the federal government.

Led by Dalhousie’s own Dr. Scott Halperin, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, the Canadian Immunization Research Network (CIRN) was established in 2014 by a national network of vaccine researchers.

CIRN includes more than 100 researchers at 40 institutions across Canada who focus on the rapid evaluation of vaccines for safety and immunogenicity, population-based methods to evaluate vaccine-effectiveness and safety, vaccine hesitancy, vaccine coverage, and adverse events following immunization.

“CIRN’s work expands upon the PHAC/CIHR Influenza Research Network (PCIRN), which was established in 2009 to increase Canada’s capacity to respond to influenza pandemics,” says Dr. Halperin. “As a 'network of networks,' CIRN’s mandate was broadened from pandemic and seasonal influenza to include research on all vaccines of public health importance.”

Although still relatively new, CIRN has already contributed an immense amount of valuable vaccine research through various studies, publications, and knowledge translation. The network encourages collaboration between vaccine researchers and stakeholders, helps to train the next generation of researchers, and facilitates communication between researchers and public health decision makers.

“Our CIRN Investigators and network members are grateful that the funding has been renewed to allow the continuation of important vaccine-related research being done across Canada,” says Dr. Halperin.

The government’s renewed commitment to CIRN will be paid out over the next four years.

Rapid response in a time of crisis

One of the unique features of CIRN is its emergency rapid response infrastructure, which enables the fast application, peer review approval and funding of clinical trials during a time of crisis. This system was put to the test in 2014, as West Africa experienced the most widespread Ebola epidemic in in history.

Canadian researchers had already studying a possible Ebola vaccine well before the pandemic occurred, but their work was not overly visible. In response to the quickly escalating global crisis, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) teamed up with CIRN to begin a Phase 1 clinical trial of the VSV-EBOV vaccine on local residents. The results from this study were a key part of what led to the selection of the vaccine for a Phase II-III trial.

“The response from our community volunteers wanting to participate in the trial was quite something,” says Dr. Halperin. “In the end, we were turning people away because we had so many people willing to participate and help to advance the research.”

The speed at which this vaccine was developed is considered extraordinary. It normally takes 10-15 years to ensure vaccines are safe and ready for use. But, because CIRN’s emergency rapid response infrastructure was available, VSV-EBOV was available in 12 months - a fraction of the time. Dubbed the “Canadian vaccine”, it is now a highly effective tool in the fight against the Ebola virus, and is widely considered a Canadian success story.

Today, CIRN is conducting a variety of research studies, many of which are multi-year projects. Fifteen individual projects have been approved for funding by CIRN, and address at least one of the network’s current research priorities.

More information about CIRN and its research can be found on its website.


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