Louis Flamand

Louis Flamand

Lead, CoVaRR-Net’s Virology Pillar 3
Interim Chair, CCABL3
Professor and Chair, Department of Microbiology, Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University

The Canadian Consortium of Academic Biosafety Level 3 Labs (CCABL3) is diligently working towards a safer and more collaborative future for scientific research on highly pathogenic organisms. Its goal is to strengthen Canada’s response to biological threats by bolstering biosafety research and preparedness in Canada.

Born out of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the idea behind CCABL3 was to create a Canadian academic hub for data, resources, and information exchange. Headed by Dr. Louis Flamand, CoVaRR-Net’s Pillar 3 Virology Lead and Professor at Laval University in Quebec City, Flamand was tasked with finding a way to organize the academic biosafety level 3 (BSL3) community and streamline the process of sharing information and assets related to COVID-19.

“In 2021, we had very little idea of who was doing what in Canada in terms of expertise, what type of facilities were available in different provinces, and what kind of work they were doing in those facilities, so we had to do a mapping of the resources that were available in Canada’s BSL3 labs.”

An early win saw all U15 universities with BSL3 laboratories across Canada sign up.

Celebrating Success

Since launching, CCABL3 has been successful in helping to fill some of the information and resource gaps in terms of pathogen distribution, although Flamand admits it’s a work in progress. He cites the creation of the Universal Data and Biological Material Transfer Agreement (UDBMTA) as proof of that success.

“The idea was to go through that umbrella agreement to share reagents. We have assembled a repository of most SARS-CoV-2 isolates that are now freely accessible to Canadian scientists and shared through CoVaRR-Net’s UDBMTA agreement. We have made some strides in that regard. Many, many institutions, close to 30 across Canada, have signed on.”

Another success has been with the standardization of training.

“With the help of our scientific coordinator Rajesh Jacob, a post-doc at McMaster, we approached 16 universities and research centres across Canada that possess BSL3 labs. We met with their biosafety officers or BSL3 directors and asked what kind of training they were doing and if we could have access to their documents. Many facilities were forthcoming with the information. Now, we are finishing a master training document featuring everyone’s best practices. Once finished, it will be submitted to the Public Health Agency of Canada for vetting. We don’t anticipate any problems since all the documents this manual is based on are already PHAC approved.”

On top of the training document, CCABL3 has also developed over a dozen Standardized Operating Procedures for BSL3 facilities, streamlining the training process overall.

Finally, Flamand says the appointment of Dr. Sarah Viehbeck, Chief Science Officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada, as an ex-officio member of its executive committee has been an important addition to the team.

“At meetings, she can hear what our needs are, and what we’re trying to accomplish, and can feed that information back to PHAC and get answers or ways to accomplish our goals. So, having her on our committee is key.”

Moving Forward 

As CCABL3 moves forward, Flamand says it will continue to rely on communication and the willingness of all parties to continue to cooperate and maintain the infrastructure in place to close any remaining information gaps to ensure preparedness for any pandemic in the future.  Flamand also sees CCABL3 as a valuable partner to PHAC in times of crisis.  During the initial phase of a pandemic, a multitude of tests and tasks need to be done rapidly, generating an overwhelming burden on employees and facilities. Having several academic BSL3 facilities working in a coordinated manner that could be rapidly mobilized to assist PHAC is certainly one way to prepare for forthcoming  pandemics.

Flamand also wants to focus on securing more financing to ensure that CCABL3’s mandate can continue to be a beacon of collaboration and preparedness in the biosafety research community.

As CCABL3 embarks on its third year, it promises to continue shaping a safer and more collaborative future for the scientific community, the country, and the world.

CCABL3’s Mission

  • Facilitating Data and Information Sharing: act as a hub for data and information exchange, ensuring that crucial insights are shared among Canadian biosafety laboratories.
  • Standardizing Training: standardize the training of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) who require access to Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) facilities.
  • Resource Mapping: conduct resource mapping of existing academic BSL3 laboratories, identifying knowledge gaps and infrastructure needs.
  • Providing Standardized Operating Procedures: create standardized operating procedures for key assays, ensuring consistency and reliability in research.
  • Pathogen Storage: play a crucial role in producing and storing high-priority pathogens, a vital resource in understanding and combatting infectious diseases.
  • Enhancing Coordination: enhance coordination between Canadian academic BSL3 labs and federal/provincial health laboratories and industries.

Discover more about CCABL3