Research Western Covid-19 Updates

March 30: Update from the Vice-President (Research) | Ontario Together: Helping Fight Coronavirus

Dear colleagues,

The Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities has allocated approximately $20 million for research studies related to COVID-19.

These opportunities are for:

  • Projects with rapid and valuable outcomes that tackle immediate problems. They are expected to have meaningful data generated in 6-7 months.
  • Longer-term projects that could help deal with a second wave of the virus, should it occur, or planning for subsequent pandemics.

While the province has indicated it will make a formal call for proposals, I would encourage you to consider preparing a letter of intent and rough budget if you are interested in applying. We are currently developing internal review processes for this initiative and would ask that you submit LOIs to your Associate Dean (Research) for the time being.

The team responsible for administering the Ontario Research Fund will manage this opportunity and will send application forms to principal investigators and their institutions once applications are triaged. Institutional sign-off will be required.

We anticipate project descriptions will be three pages in length, including appendices for budgets, etc. There is no requirement for matching funds, although partnered funding can be mentioned and worked into the budget.

We are being asked to keep proposed budgets realistic given limited funds and the short timeline for this initiative.

There is no formal submission deadline, although we expect applications will be reviewed by a single panel over the next 2-3 weeks. As a result, full proposals will need to be submitted within the next 10 days.

Successful applicants should hear results within two weeks of the panel’s review, and fund will flow quickly.

Many thanks and stay safe,

Sarah

March 26: Update from the Vice-President (Research) | COVID-19 Update

At the direction of the province, Western has moved to an essential services model, which affects many researchers on campus.

Appropriate access to buildings has now been provided to members of our community who have been identified as essential for maintaining critical research programs. Work related to COVID-19 also continues in several labs.

All others are to work from home.

If you have encountered issues related to access, please communicate directly with your Chair or Dean, as appropriate.

We will, as agencies announce them, continue to communicate new funding opportunities for research related to COVID-19 by email and on the Research Western website.

I would also like to acknowledge, and thank, the many members of our community who have continued to support front-line health-care workers by providing PPE from their labs and by working on other innovative ways of supporting them. Please contact me if you have any additional suggestions or donations.

We thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this new terrain. I acknowledge the anxiety and unknowns our fellow faculty, staff, students, trainees and community members must be feeling.

By continuing to work together, we will come through this stronger. Stay safe.

March 26: Just Launched: Online COVID-19 "Match-making" Platform for Collaboration

Another potential tool Canada can use to collaborate faster with EU researchers.

Earlier today, UK-based open innovation network, Crowdhelix, in partnership with Brussels-based media company Science|Business, has launched a free online match-making service to help COVID-19 researchers find one another across the globe, check out funding opportunities, and get to work tackling the virus faster.

The service is a simple online tool to help COVID-19 researchers connect, whatever their country or specialty. This new network is advised by Dr. Björn Kull, Head of Grants Office at Karolinska Institutet, the Stockholm medical university. It is also supported by leading Belgian university KU Leuven.

How it works: With the Crowdhelix service, researchers can click through to a special COVID-19 section of its custom-built Open Innovation platform. There, they can profile themselves, their teams, and their organisations, and post opportunities to collaborate. An intelligent recommender system then matches these opportunities with the most suitable prospective collaborators, using natural language processing and machine-learning.

March 24: Western Internal Grants - Approval of Extensions to Awarded Projects

Due to the recent events related to COVID-19 and potential delays to research projects, Western will allow extensions on the following internal grants should an awardee require one:

  • Western Strategic Support for Tri-Council Success grants (all programs)
  • New International Research Networks Award
  • Faculty Research Development Fund awards (Faculties provide extension approvals)

This allowance applies to current awarded grants. Should awardees require an extension on their award, we ask that they follow the usual procedure for requesting an extension, and submit a request to intgrant@uwo.ca one month prior to the end date of the award. The duration of the extension will be reviewed as per project needs and remaining balances; however, extensions of up to one year will be approved. Research reporting requirements are still in place for these programs; deadlines for reporting will be adjusted to follow the completion of project activities.

Regarding reimbursement of expenses due to the cancellation of research-related travel and/or events (refundable or non-refundable): Western internal grants will follow the same updated expenditure policies as outlined by the Tri-Agencies:

Please communicate this information to researchers in your Faculties, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

March 23: Update from the Vice-President (Research) | Essential-Services Model for On-Campus Activities

Based on a directive coming from the provincial government, Western will be moving to an essential services model beginning on Wednesday, March 25, at 12:01a.m. that will continue for at least 14 days.

In order to be as prepared as possible, I am communicating with you now with a request for information in order to continue our planning processes. It is important to note that some of the planning outlined below may change once we have more clear direction from the Province tomorrow. Western has essential services roles within the following units:

  • Campus Community Police Service
  • Power Plant
  • Research
  • Facilities Management
  • Housing and Hospitality Services
  • Student Support/ Student Experience
  • Human Resources
  • Financial Services
  • Communications and Public Affairs
  • Western Technology Services (including any IT staff deemed essential within the Faculties)
  • Office of the Registrar

Leaders have been asked to identify employees required to carry out their roles on campus, who are essential to our business process. All other Western employees who can work from home should continue to do so

Course work for students will continue in the online learning model that began on March 18.

While Western has consolidated its residences as much as possible, we will continue to support students who cannot return home due to travel restrictions, health, personal circumstances, or various obligations.

As Western moves to this essential services model, please note the following important changes:

  • All on-campus eateries will be closed
  • All university research labs will be closed, with the exception of those deemed essential by the Vice-President (Research)
These include:

  • Labs conducting COVID-19 research
  • Labs that must maintain essential biological specimens
  • Labs with equipment that must continue to be calibrated and cannot be turned off
  • Animal care

The people who are needed to maintain these essential Research functions must be identified

  • All buildings will be closed, with the exception of student residences
  • Restricted card access will be granted to only essential employees, approved by Deans or Vice-Presidents

If you have questions about how this might impact your unit, please let me know.

I really appreciate your patience as we work together to move into this essential services model.

March 19: Suggested Actions for Currently Approved Research Involving Humans

Given the evolving circumstances with COVID19 Western’s Research Ethics Boards (REB) encourage all researchers with active protocols to evaluate the necessity of ongoing study activities at this time, and if needed, to make appropriate (and applicable) revisions to their study in response to Public Health Ontario recommendations until further notice – maintaining compliance to all institutional, provincial and federal guidelines.

The PI on the application is responsible for exercising sound judgment in determining when ongoing study activities are appropriate, taking into consideration: (a) the objective of the research; (b) the mandate to protect all participants, research staff and the community at large; and (c) the resources available (e.g., access to study sites, personnel, technologies, etc.) to carry out ongoing activities.

  1. Are ongoing study activities essential at this time?
  2. If ‘yes’, what study activities must continue?
  3. Are any modifications to approved study procedures needed to responsibly carry out these
    activities?
  4. If ‘yes’, will these modifications increase any risk to participants, researchers, the community at
    large or the institution?
  5. If ‘yes’, what steps will be implemented to minimize risk to all involved?
    Western’s REBs recognize the with a wide range of research across campus will necessitate diverse
    modifications to facilitate research activities during this time.

Below are some technologies Western makes available which may help facilitate social distancing and minimize travel to campus and face-to-face interactions, while still allowing research teams to communicate with each other and with participants as needed.

Consent modifications: verbal consent via telephone (required: verbal script and evidence of documented consent such as via audio-recording); written consent received via email attachment; online consent via Qualtrics (mysurveys.uwo.ca).

  • Videoconferencing options: Western Zoom. For hospital options, please use these services
  • Office 365 Suite: deemed secure for collection, transfer, storage of sensitive information (e.g.,
    de-identified research data)
As per the Memo sent on March 13, 2020, researchers must report these modifications to the REB within 5 days of implementing the change *if not possible to do so before*. These reports must be submitted as a Reportable Event in WREM (see Actions: “Create Sub-Form”), selecting “For Your Information (FYI)” in Q1.8 of the application form.

You must go into WREM and use the correspondence feature to message the specific ethics officer assigned to your file to efficiently communicate with the REB about your own individual studies. It will be much faster and the most efficient way to ensure your message gets to the most appropriate person.

The messages go right to the email for the ethics officer assigned to the file.

March 18: Update from the Vice-President (Research) | Maintenance of Lab Duties

Thank you for your ongoing efforts to safely preserve and transition research activities as we navigate changes to our campus environment in light of COVID-19.

Our first priority is to protect Western's students, trainees, staff and faculty.

We have previously offered guidance that critical lab activities can continue so long as they follow public health guidelines related to social distancing. This is a critical step in our ability to reduce transmission of the virus.

If it is impossible to maintain appropriate social distance within your facilities, you must prepare to close down your labs. This move is essential to ensuring the safety of our colleagues, and is consistent with our peer institutions.

Several teams have recently received external funding to advance research specific to COVID-19. Western and Lawson have similarly invested in these projects, which we will continue to advance while respecting social distancing guidelines.

Also, please continue to pay students on grants.

March 13: Impact of COVID-19 on Research Ethics Board (REB)-Approved Studies

Given rapidly evolving circumstances presented by COVID-19, Western’s Health Sciences and Non-Medical Research Ethics Boards (HSREB/NMREB) are monitoring the situation carefully in conjunction with hospital and university programs and units. Our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our patients, staff, faculty and students. This is particularly important for ongoing research taking place within our hospitals/university and affiliated sites. This is a fluid situation we are monitoring closely.

The Office of Human Research Ethics does not have the resources necessary to provide their usual levels of ethical oversight. As such, investigators will temporarily need to bear an increased burden for oversight of their projects to ensure research participant/patient safety. This is particularly critical for research participants/patients whose care involves investigational drug or medical device interventions and whose safety depends on regular evaluations.

Effective immediately, enrollment of new research participants into Lawson-affiliated studies not providing a potentially essential treatment option with a time limited enrollment window should be suspended until April 30, 2020. Please note this date may be extended as the situation evolves. In contrast, enrollment of new research participants for non-Lawson affiliated studies is NOT suspended at this time.

We are advising investigators to consider whether their active research protocols could be modified or delayed to limit personal contact, laboratory visits or trips to clinics and hospitals. These modifications must be completed in collaboration with the study sponsor where applicable.

Specifically, in-person interactions should be reduced and/or replaced with telephone or online communication wherever it is possible to maintain the protocol’s scientific validity. Considerations include the nature of the protocol, the type of participants engaged in the research and any additional risks that may arise by switching from in-person to virtual communication (e.g., Cisco Webex at the hospitals, Zoom at Western).

Revised participant consent or consent addendums may be required (e.g., to update privacy considerations with use of different communication channels), but these communication changes do not need to be approved by the HSREB/NMREB prior to implementation. Please note this is not a blanket approval for protocol changes. This correspondence applies only to changes made in response to COVID-19 precautions.

Where research staff are feeling unwell, care should be taken to stay home to prevent transmission of any illness. Institutional protocols must be followed, as determined by Western/LHSC/SJHC/Lawson, if COVID-19 is known or suspected.

While regulations (e.g., TCPS2, FDA) typically require review and approval of research protocol modifications prior to implementation, an exception can be made where the change is necessary to eliminate an immediate risk to participant(s) (TCPS2 Article 6.15 and 21 CFR 56.108(a)(4)). Such changes may be implemented immediately; however, where possible, the notification to the REB should be performed prior to implementing the changes, and when notification to the REB is not possible before implementation, they must be reported to the
HSREB/NMREB within five business days (via WREM-Reportable Event-FYI). Please specifically
reference “COVID-19”.

Ethical oversight is the responsibility of PIs if they are introducing additional risks and making urgent changes prior to formal HSREB/NMREB approval. Investigators must also submit a document that describes the changes and explains how participants will be protected. Copies of any new or revised participant-facing materials must also be submitted. Sign-off on the submission by WREM must be provided by the PI or a PI-delegated person.

This change to the REB process will be in place until further communicated

If you have any questions/concerns please contact the office at ethics@uwo.ca or 519-661-3036.

March 13: Update from Vice-President (Research) to Associate Deans (Research)

Thank you for your continued collegiality and efforts to ensure timely communication with our research community as we respond to rapidly evolving circumstances presented by COVID-19.

At this time, research continues as usual.

I am writing to provide a few updates.

First, we will mirror guidelines issued by the Tri-Agencies and recognize claims for non-refundable travel as eligible expenses for all internal research funding programs. These claims must include relevant cancellation documentation.

There are currently no provisions for increasing grant values to compensate for these expenses.

Second, I ask that you continue to consider contingency plans – particularly with respect to animal care, equipment, etc. – in the event we are asked to close the university.

Third, we have drafted a set of frequently asked questions, which I have attached here and would recommend you please share with researchers. These will be posted on Western’s COVID-19 information page and I anticipate we will update them as we progress.

March 13: Update from Vice-President (Research)

Western continues to closely monitor rapidly evolving circumstances presented by COVID-19. We are also developing contingency plans to address unique challenges that could potentially affect the research community.

Our first priority is to protect Western’s students, trainees, staff and faculty.

At the current time, research continues as usual, except in instances where it would contravene public health directives or where researchers believe their work would pose undue risk.

Please continue to pay special attention to social distance and hand-washing recommendations, and to follow updates on Western’s COVID-19 information page.