Digital Technology Supercluster funds UVic COVID Research

The Digital Technology Supercluster (the “Supercluster”) COVID-19 Program now includes a growing suite of projects offering solutions to urgent health care needs across Canada arising from COVID-19.

These projects focus on delivering digital solutions, including handheld diagnosis devices for use in rural and remote communities, virtual health care services – vital to protect patients from risk of infection – a forecasting model that accurately predicts mutations of the COVID-19 virus, and a platform that uses artificial intelligence to quickly identify new treatments.

These new projects are part of the Supercluster’s previously announced $60 million investment to fight COVID-19. This investment is designed to address some of the biggest hurdles facing Canada’s response to the virus, including the need for faster, more efficient detection and treatment, more effective resource allocation, more accurate diagnosis tools for communities located outside of urban centers, and more widely available virtual care.

By tackling these challenges, the new projects will help protect the health and safety of vulnerable Canadians, such as those relying on home care, while developing technologies that bolster our digital economy.

“Organizations in our Supercluster are uniquely positioned to support our healthcare sector in addressing the complex problems COVID-19 has created,” said Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster. “These projects are clear examples of how collaborative innovation allows us to tackle Canada’s most urgent needs head on. Looking ahead, we also know these solutions will better prepare us for future pandemic scenarios.”

The new projects announced today complement the Supercluster’s previously announced projects including the COVID-19 Beacon, and the Rapid Repurposing of Drugs for COVID-19.

The UVic projects include:

Antibody design using artificial intelligence (AI)

The project will use AI to fast-track the complex task of developing antibodies required for a vaccine and effective treatments for COVID-19. Working with project partners Variational AI and Zymeworks, a global leader in the design of antibodies, the artificial intelligence-powered platform will help identify new treatments to protect Canadians against COVID-19 and other disease, saving time and money.

“Using a technique known as X-ray crystallography, our research team will generate 3D maps of the computer-designed antibodies,” says Martin Boulanger, a biochemistry professor at UVic.

“In some ways this process can be considered a form of cartography where mapping the surface of a protein is similar to mapping landscape topography. The final map will provide valuable insights into the computer models and how well the custom-designed antibodies can be used to treat COVID-19 and other serious diseases.”

Providing safe, effective home care during COVID-19

Home-care patients and their caregivers are at risk of being in the next wave of COVID-19 victims. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 within this vulnerable population is essential to reduce hospitalizations and prevent strain on the healthcare system.

With contributions from UVic, the project will significantly increase the functionality of an existing digital toolkit used by company lead AlayaCare, and accelerate the ability to deliver the COVID-19 specific functions including alerting service providers in real-time about symptomatic employees or patients.



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