Nominated Principal Applicant

Joyce Wilson, University of Saskatchewan


Darryl Falzarano, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and CoVaRR-Net Pillar 3 Deputy

Lay Summary

Effective vaccines and mass vaccination efforts have promised to end the COVID-19 pandemic. However, recent months have seen the worldwide spread of variants with enhanced transmission, more severe health effects (pathology), and partial escape from vaccine-induced immunity, which is complicating control efforts. More variants are inevitable, yet the emergence and spread of variants that escape vaccine protection could jeopardize vaccine efficacy and drive society back into lockdown. Continued surveillance will be necessary to identify Variants of Concern (VOCs) so that appropriate modifications to public health control and vaccine strategies can be made.

Our research aims to assess the influence of individual mutants on SARS-CoV-2 to identify those that make the virus more dangerous.

We will:

  • Focus on mutations present in viruses that predominate human infections and those present in variants that are emerging but have not yet become prominent;
  • Construct variant viruses in our lab using a SARS-CoV-2 molecular cDNA clone, generated using our previous Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) COVID-19 Rapid Response grant funding, bypassing the complication of isolating the virus from patient samples;
  • Rapidly assess the infection and replication properties of the new variants and identify the ones that replicate more effectively or have found ways to better avoid natural- or vaccine-induced immunity; and
  • Identify dangerous variants based on routine surveillance.

This study will allow us to predict and prepare strategies to control variants that predominate now and may predominate in the future. Through our research, we intend to inform public health and vaccine decisions, particularly related to high-risk populations including aged and people with comorbidities, racialized, and Indigenous populations.


CoVaRR-Net is funding this research, which was first proposed to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Emerging COVID-19 Research Gaps and Priorities – Variants funding call, with a $305,775 cash contribution.