Our Mandate

CoVaRR-Net (Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network)’s goal? Rapidly answer critical and immediate questions regarding variants, such as their increased transmissibility, likelihood to cause severe cases of COVID-19, and resistance to vaccines.

We are a network of interdisciplinary researchers from institutions across the country created to assist in the Government of Canada’s overall strategy to address the potential threat of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Our mandate is to coordinate, facilitate and accelerate rapid response research throughout Canada.

We aim to create mechanisms, such as a national biobank, a data sharing platform, and material sharing agreements to allow researchers to share physical research resources, data and knowledge, making it easier and faster for researchers to get what they need to study variants in Canada.

Our network continuously monitors Canadian and international virus sequencing efforts, making it a critical element of the Canadian ecosystem for the surveillance of variants of concern (VOCs). We work collaboratively with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), provincial and territorial public health labs, and other national and international bodies.

Our network’s findings inform the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and federal, provincial, territorial, and regional public health decision makers, helping to guide their response in an effort to reduce virus transmission and keep Canadians safe.

CoVaRR-Net was created with a $9 million investment at the end of March 2021 as part of the Government of Canada’s Variants of Concern Strategy.

Helping to Prepare for Future Pandemics

CoVaRR-Net believes it is essential to plan for future pandemics, whether they will be caused by viruses or microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

That is why it is currently laying the foundations to eventually morph into a Pandemic Preparedness Network that will foster close ties, collaborations and relationships with public health laboratories and industry — because everyone’s contribution is critical during a pandemic.

Biobank

A biobank is a repository of human samples (e.g., blood, saliva, and stool samples) as well as viruses and reagents required to carry out research. Sharing reagents between research institutions is not always simple and generally requires several layers of ethical and legal approval. These can sometimes slow down rapid-response research efforts during a pandemic.

To accelerate our research response to characterize variants, and central to our mandate, CoVaRR-Net is establishing its own SARS-CoV-2-focussed biobank to quickly share materials and information with network members across Canada.  This biobank will be expanded to store and share other products, as needed.

Wastewater Monitoring

People infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, shed (release) the virus in their stool. Even infected individuals without symptoms shed the virus. By measuring the levels of virus within genetic material in wastewater, public health officials can assess trends and variations in local SARS-CoV-2 infection without physically testing everyone. Interestingly, trends measured in wastewater can forecast the levels of symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in the population about one week ahead of time. Monitoring the virus in wastewater constitutes, therefore, an early monitoring system for virus spread and detecting new variants. Wastewater monitoring is expected to be part of our pandemic preparedness toolkit going forward.

Our Pillars

CoVaRR-Net is structured with nine themes or “Pillars”, six assessing a different biological aspect of variants, and three focussed on Indigenous communities, public health impacts, and ensuring findings are quickly and efficiently communicated to decision-makers, scientists, and the general public.

Pillar 1 | Immunology & Vaccine Protection

Investigating how the immune system responds to emerging variants and assessing the effectiveness of vaccines against them.

Pillar 2 | Host-Pathogen Interactions

Exploring the interactions between SARS-CoV-2 variants and different host species to understand infection and disease, both in the laboratory and the field.

Pillar 3 | Virology

Evaluates the virus’ features in cells and animals. These include measuring infectivity, pathological effects, and vaccine and immune resistance in animals.

Pillar 4 | Functional Genomics & Structure-Function of VOCs

Studying different areas of the viruses & how they interact with cells, investigating viral protein structures and functions & how they interact with human proteins.

Pillar 5 | Viral Genomics & Sequencing

Reads each variant’s genetic code and looks at the relationships between the sequences of the parent virus and the variants.

Pillar 6 | Computational Biology and Modelling

Using computer modelling and calculations to evaluate the genetic evolution of variants and how quickly they propagate in the Canadian population.

Pillar 7 | Indigenous Engagement, Development, and Research

Building partnerships with Indigenous communities and working collaboratively with the upcoming Indigenous Network for VOC in multiple areas.

Pillar 8 | Public Health, Health Systems & Social Policy Impacts

Studying the impacts of the variants on public health, our healthcare system & on social policy, and reporting these findings to decision makers and government officials.

Pillar 9 | Knowledge, Implementation and Training Team (KITT)

Connecting all activities from the other seven Pillars and quickly and efficiently sharing findings in order to best advance discoveries and inform decision and policymakers.

Together, the roles of the Pillars are to:

  1. Identify, analyze and predict upcoming VOCs;
  2. Use and devise new communications channels to inform government decision makers of our results;
  3. Deploy knowledge mobilization strategies in Canada and abroad;
  4. Establish communication channels with Indigenous partners and communities, as well as with the upcoming Indigenous Network for VOCs; and
  5. Incorporate equity and inclusion as foundational values in all operations to ensure it is not siloed and inform all CoVaRR-Net decisions pertaining to equity-deserving groups.

Our Cross-Cutting Themes

Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI)

Community and Patient Engagement and Outreach

Our Shared Resources

Data Platform

New biobank

Bioethics