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$2.1 million to better understand and combat COVID-19

Montreal, March 6, 2020 – Today three professors from the Université Laval Faculty of Medicine and CHU de Québec–Université Laval Research Centre obtained grants totalling$2.1 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to better understand and combat the COVID-19 coronavirus. The recipients are professors Gary Kobinger, Denis Leclerc, and Louis Flamand.

Developing experimental vaccines and identifying monoclonal antibodies
Professor Gary Kobinger, director of Université Laval's Infectious Disease Research Center, was awarded$1 million to develop experimental vaccines against COVID-19. Professor Kobinger aims to create an in vitro model of COVID-19 using reverse genetics, identify antibodies that can neutralize the virus, measure the efficacy of various potential vaccines, and evaluate their safety in humans in Phase 1 clinical trials. This work will be conducted in close collaboration with a number of university laboratories and biotechnology firms. Professor Kobinger is a world-renowned expert in vaccinology who developed experimental vaccines for MERS and the Zika virus and brought them to clinical trial within 24 months and 7 months, respectively.

Developing a nanoparticle-based vaccine
Professor Denis Leclerc received more than$700,000 to develop a nanoparticle-based vaccine to fight the virus responsible for COVID-19. Professor Leclerc's proposed vaccine will have two components: one containing antigens taken from the virus with a nanoparticle added to strengthen the immune response, and the other designed to stimulate the body to produce antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the origin of the current epidemic. This approach will result in a vaccine that protects not only against the virus that appeared several months ago in Wuhan but also against other related viruses, including the one responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2002. Using nanoparticles has the added benefit of stabilizing the vaccine and extending its life by multiple years with no loss in efficacy.

Understanding the immune response triggered by COVID-19
Professor Louis Flamand, chair of Université Laval's Department of microbiology-infectiology and immunology, received$400,000 to study the immune response triggered by the COVID-19 virus. Infections by viruses such as COVID-19, SARS, or MERS cause an inflammatory reaction that, if too intense or prolonged, leads to serious respiratory issues. This inflammation is the result of the immune system's response to infection. Professor Flamand and his collaborators will study the inflammatory response by exposing lung and blood cells to COVID-19 and comparing it to the responses associated with SARS and MERS. Their detailed analysis of how lung epithelial cells and white blood cells respond will be used to develop therapeutic strategies to help relieve symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection.

"These research grants demonstrate that Université can make a significant contribution to the fight against COVID-19, both nationally and internationally," said Université Laval Rector Sophie D'Amours. Our professors and their high-level teams, having access to state-of-the-art laboratories, can make a difference."

About the Université Laval    
Driven by innovation and the pursuit of excellence, Université Laval is one of Canada's leading research universities, ranking 7th with$403.8 million in research funding last year. A leader in distance education, it has more than 1,600 professors, nearly 2,200 lecturers and other academic and research staff who share their knowledge with over 43,000 students, 25% of whom are enrolled in graduate studies. The university values diversity and is proud of the members of its community, who come from 120 countries. The oldest francophone university in North America, Université Laval has so far trained more than 312,000 people who each contribute in their own way to the advancement of society.

Simon La Terreur
Media Relations
Université Laval
T. : 418 656-2131 extension 404159
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