The Need for Speed

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Research projects at UHN awarded funding to quickly address COVID-19 pandemic.
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A selection of the UHN researchers that have received funding from Fast Grants (clockwise from top left): Drs. Ewan Goligher, Megan Landes, Kevin Kain, Steven Friedman and Brian Raught.

Four research projects at UHN have been funded by the Fast Grants initiative. These projects were selected based on their potential to achieve real benefits and to help address the COVID-19 pandemic within six months.

The Fast Grants initiative lives up to its name: projects are reviewed and funding is released to successful applicants within 48 hours of submission. As of April 25, 2020, the program awarded 102 grants and provided $18M to researchers worldwide.

Funded projects were led by the following researchers:

● Dr. Brian Raught, Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN
Two cutting-edge screening technologies will be used to identify: 1) new drug targets for the treatment of COVID-19, and 2) drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that have activity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

● Dr. Ewan Goligher, Scientist, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), UHN
● Dr. Patrick Lawler, Scientist, TGHRI, UHN
A trial to determine whether high-dose blood thinners can improve survival in patients with COVID-19. COVID-19 is associated with a significantly increased tendency for blood clotting and this may lead to life-threatening respiratory failure and heart failure. Hospitalized patients are routinely treated with a low dose blood thinner to prevent formation of blood clots; this international clinical trial will establish whether treatment with high dose blood thinners can prevent the need for intubation and reduce the risk of death in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

● Dr. Steven Friedman, Clinician Investigator, TGHRI, UHN;
● Dr. Susan Poutanen, Microbiologist, UHN and Mount Sinai Hospital
A study to evaluate a new saliva-based test for the COVID-19 virus (ie, SARS-CoV-2). This new approach would serve as an alternative to existing ‘nasopharyngeal swab’ testing methods and help overcome the current shortages in swabs and related testing reagents. It would also reduce risks to health care workers because the new test would not require them to be in close proximity to the individuals being tested. In addition to reducing the risk of infection, the new test would reduce the need for personal protective equipment, which is also in short supply.

● Dr. Kevin Kain, Senior Scientist, TGHRI, UHN
● Dr. Megan Landes, Clinician Investigator, TGHRI, UHN
A study to assess the safety and effectiveness of the drug known as hydroxy-chloroquine at preventing COVID-19. The study will be carried out over a three-month period and enable the researchers to test whether the drug prevents COVID-19 in health care workers that are at high risk for exposure to the virus.

UHN is thankful to all the sponsors that have contributed to the Fast Grants initiative through contributions made to the Thistledown Foundation. A special thank you to Shopify Inc. CEO Tobi Lutke and his spouse Fiona McKean, who engaged with research institutions and set this initiative in motion. For a full list of current donors and updates to funded projects, see: https://fastgrants.org/

Congratulations to all researchers involved in this important work!