Foresight helped make Canada a world leader in Ebola research

September 10, 2014

The worst Ebola outbreak ever seen has struck a number of West African countries and infected thousands -- citizens, aid workers and health care personnel. Thousands have died. Although several solutions are in various stages of testing, no Ebola treatment or vaccine has yet been officially approved for human use.

There is hope as the medical community turns to experimental therapies, some of which were developed with support from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear (CBRN) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). The CRTI was a federal program led by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), which has now been integrated as part of the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), also led by DRDC in partnership with Public Safety Canada.

Canadian scientists have developed antibodies that show great promise in treating Ebola.

Canadian scientists have developed antibodies that show great promise in treating Ebola. Two of the three antibodies found in the experimental treatment ZMapp were initially developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) through CRTI funding. This is the experimental treatment that was administered to two American aid workers who contracted Ebola in West Africa.

Canada is also behind VSV-EBOV, an Ebola vaccine. In 2005, the DRDC-led CRTI provided PHAC with funding to support the creation of a manufacturing process that would make it possible to produce a pharmaceutical grade version of the vaccine for use in clinical trials. This effort was an important catalyst in building the stockpile that the Government of Canada is donating to the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in the current West African outbreak.

“It’s this kind of foresight that has made Canada a world leader in Ebola research.”

— Dr. Gary Kobinger, Chief, Special Pathogens, Public Health Agency of Canada

“The support of the CRTI was invaluable to us; they recognized a need and funded the initial research that made ZMapp and the VSV-EBOV vaccine possible,” said Dr. Gary Kobinger, Chief, Special Pathogens, Public Health Agency of Canada. “It’s this kind of foresight that has made Canada a world leader in Ebola research,” added Kobinger. “Canadians can be very proud of our nation’s contributions to helping the world fight against such a devastating disease”.  

“This is a prime example of how working together, Canada’s science and technology community within government has been able to deliver something of great significance to world health and safety,” said Dr. Marc Fortin, Chief Executive Officer, DRDC, and Assistant Deputy Minister (science and technology), Department of National Defence.

Foresight and Action

Following the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, governments around the world gathered their best experts to develop innovative strategies to protect their citizens and institutions against new and emerging threats.

The Government of Canada introduced a number of public safety and anti-terrorism initiatives, including the creation of the CRTI, an interdepartmental initiative led by Defence Research and Development Canada, working in partnership between 15 science-based federal departments and agencies and security-based departments. This initiative was tasked with seeking out science and technology (S&T) solutions to help defeat CBRN threats. This included investigating medical countermeasures against threats such as Ebola. 

However, developing vaccines and antibody treatments for diseases like Ebola, which generally only affect a small percentage of the world population, poses many challenges. On the one hand, the potential impacts are staggering if such a disease is used as a weapon or an outbreak spreads beyond a smaller, contained population.  On the other hand, these scenarios are highly unlikely and the cost of bringing medical countermeasure to market is very high. This means the likelihood of return on investment is poor, which can generally make research in such areas less appealing to Industry.

Given the direction from government in the wake of 9/11, the DRDC-led program quickly made it a funding priority, mobilizing the expertise and resources of the federal science and technology community to develop solutions against this disease.

Since that time, the CRTI and its successor program, CSSP, have invested approximately $7 million over 11 years to support the Public Health Agency of Canada and its partners in developing solutions to the Ebola threat.

These programs foster unique partnerships that bring together Canada’s best scientific minds to work on important public safety and security issues like Ebola. As the current outbreak rages, the life-changing impact of decisions first made in Canada more than a decade ago highlights how these programs have made, and can continue to make, invaluable contributions that help protect Canadians and the world.

horizontal rule

Read More News from DRDC

DRDC's booth at CANSEC

CANSEC 2016

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is participating in CANSEC 2016 from May 25-26, 2016 at the EY Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. 
May 26, 2016

The CBRN detector on the iRobot is used to “sniff” TNT in a bucket located onsite at DRDC – Suffield Research Centre on 3 June 2014.

Science supports savvy DND robotics purchase

DRDC Scientists validate $8.9M DND acquisition of Small Remotely Operated Vehicles.
March 24, 2016

A digital radio frequency memory jammer on-board an unmanned vessel during trials at of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercises comprised of nations with an interest in the Pacific Rim region.

Enhancing the Navy’s protection against modern threats

Explore how one of Rim of the Pacific’s highest priority experiments could protect against complex modern naval threats.
March 16, 2016

Particle physicist Arthur McDonald, co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, in front of the SNO Lab.

Nobel work with Neutrinos

Learn how current DRDC scientists contributed to the Nobel Prize-Winning experiment at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.
February 24, 2016

Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) personnel test over-the-air distribution (OTAD) of GPS encryption keys at DRDC Ottawa Research Centre's navigation warfare lab.

CAF moving towards new automated method of distributing GPS encryption keys

New method aims to facilitate greater number of encrypted devices by making it easier to load encryption keys
February 17, 2016

See more news
Date modified: