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Emerging Infectious Diseases Modelling Initiative

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Overview
Duration Two years
Value From $500K to $2.5M per year
Application deadline October 26, 2020 – Expression of Interest (EOI) deadline
November 2, 2020 – Launch of the full application submission site
December 18, 2020 – Full application deadline
How to apply

Application

To submit an application, all documents must be uploaded to the NSERC EIDM Initiative secure portal.

For more information Consult the contact list

Description

Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are a key public health threat, which we are currently experiencing with COVID-19. EIDs are, for the most part, infectious diseases of animals that have, or evolve, the capacity to infect humans (these are called zoonoses), and can sometimes be transmitted human-to-human without need for animals to be involved in transmission. Zoonoses that acquire the capacity for efficient human-to-human transmission are those most likely to spread in the human population and cause pandemics such as COVID-19. The interaction of animals, the environment and humans in the emergence and spread of EIDs means that understanding EIDs to support risk assessment, prevention and control requires a One Health approach, i.e. one that considers the interactions amongst animals, humans and the environment.

In the context of public health, modelling can recreate the essential components of pathogen transmission cycles from our understanding of the biology of the pathogens and their interactions with their hosts. Models can help public health leaders and organizations understand where and when infectious diseases may emerge or re-emerge, and they can be used to explore the best methods or combinations of methods to control disease outbreaks or epidemics and protect the health of Canadians.

In responding to the COVID-19 epidemic, mathematical modelling has proven to be an essential tool for researchers and policy advisors to simulate the impact of various interventions or public health strategies, and to provide quantitative predictions of how interventions might affect population health in the future. A wide range of actors in Canada (including: federal, provincial, territorial (FPT) and municipal governments, local public health units and organizations, research organizations and universities, and others) are developing models to help inform and guide responses to public health threats such as COVID-19. The COVID-19 epidemic has reinforced the crucial role of modelling and has underscored a need for greater and ongoing capacity to implement and validate a full range of modelling tools required to support decision-making on public health measures and to support the response to epidemics and outbreaks.

At the federal level, since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has identified several opportunities related to improving the capacity and coordination of infectious disease data modelling, a core component of disease surveillance. Through the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that Canada would benefit from

  • additional skilled modelling experts,
  • improved coordination of experts and stakeholders to support the identification of priority issues and strategic directions,
  • improved mobilization and collaboration among experts to accelerate research and advance potential solutions.

Addressing these gaps will improve Canada’s preparedness in the face of public health emergencies, such as pandemics.

The PHAC and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) are working together to strengthen collaborative efforts among the academic community and all relevant stakeholders to conduct and coordinate infectious diseases modelling to better respond to COVID-19 and other similar situations.

Objectives

The funding opportunity has two broad objectives:

  • Enhance national capacity of infectious disease modelling that supports public health responses to EIDs in the future by building a national network for collaboration and knowledge mobilization. 
  • Provide direct support to Canada’s COVID-19 response by producing modelling products that contribute to public health decisions via risk assessment, impact analyses, and decision support such as intervention program design.

To achieve these objectives, this initiative aims to establish multi-disciplinary network(s) of specialists across the country in modelling infectious diseases to be applied to public needs associated with emerging infectious diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19. The network(s) would enhance and formalize existing ad-hoc structures, facilitate new and existing partnerships across institutions, as well as the sharing of methodological advancements and strategies, thereby improving and enhancing research efforts and supporting capacity building in infectious disease modelling within Canada.

Applicants are encouraged to establish multi-disciplinary collaborations that demonstrate integration of the One Health (interaction of humans, animals and environment) approach to understanding infectious disease emergence and transmission, and strategies for prevention and control.

A key component of enhancing national capacity is the development of highly qualified personnel who are able to respond to current and future EIDs and pandemics by having knowledge of the needs for modelling to support decisions in public health. These include assessment of the spread of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases in human and animal populations, and methods of control by medical counter measures and non-pharmaceutical interventions. With this in mind, applications should include research projects in modelling of the type conducted by scientists working on public health responses to EIDs in general and COVID-19 in particular. This research should be designed to fill identified gaps in modelling EIDs in general, and modelling to support responses to COVID-19 in particular by:

  • Innovation in modelling methods, that are developed to the point of ready-made models for common methods of transmission (respiratory/air-borne, vectors, water/food) that may be readily adapted to new EIDs;
  • Developing models that are capable of exploring transmission amongst domesticated animal, wild animal and human populations, recognising the zoonotic nature of COVID-19 and many EID;
  • Partnering with epidemiologists, biostatisticians, social scientists, data and surveillance experts, and public health practitioners to identify gaps in critical data needed to inform modelling efforts and also developing plans and prioritizations for mobilizing partners to rapidly and robustly collect needed data elements routinely and during outbreaks;
  • Developing models to explore the complete scope of potential health, social, economic, environmental, societal and seasonal impacts of proposed public health interventions to quantitatively capture a broad range of risks and benefits associated with disease prevention and control strategies; and
  • Bringing together complementary expertise to work towards foundational consensus with regards to contact mixing patterns (mixing), and the transportation network (mobility).

In order to deliver the Emerging Infectious Diseases Modelling Initiative, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) will award a limited number of grants, totaling $10M over two years, to eligible researchers with expertise in disease modelling or complementary disciplines, to undertake a range of activities related to predicting epidemics and outbreaks, assessing socio-economic impacts, and supporting decision-making in health as it relates to emerging infectious diseases. Network(s) will be expected to address equity, diversity and inclusion in their research design, team composition and training of HQP.

Anticipated outcomes

This funding opportunity will support public health decision-making in Canada by providing:

  • Enhanced EID modelling capacity in Canada for current and future epidemics and pandemics that supports public health responses by stronger multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations.
  • Support in the development of rigorous science-informed policy decisions on COVID-19.

Funded applications will:

  • Support improved and enhanced infectious diseases modelling research and expertise.
  • Act as a resource to assist the Government of Canada with modelling efforts to support future public health interventions related to COVID-19.
  • Align with and support the Government of Canada in establishing mechanisms for sharing methodologies enhancing and building upon existing inventories of open access datasets on infectious diseases (such as COVID-19) from FPT governments, hospitals and health care organisations, as well as (when relevant) animal and environmental health organisations.
  • Provide equitable training opportunities for training of highly qualified personnel (undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research associates and technicians) as well as reflecting the multidisciplinary nature of mathematical modelling for infectious diseases.
  • Support a reliable public health emergency preparedness and response system.
  • Increase national rapid response capacity to work within the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) setting.
  • Work collaboratively with the PHAC and other networks supported by this funding opportunity.

By building up and better harnessing infectious disease data modelling expertise, Canada will be better able to use modelling to predict epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks; forecast outcomes; and inform public health measures for emerging infectious threats and pandemic scenarios. 

Equity, diversity and inclusion

NSERC is acting on the evidence that achieving a more equitable, diverse and inclusive Canadian research enterprise is essential to creating the excellent, innovative and impactful research necessary to advance knowledge and understanding, and to respond to local, national and global challenges. This principle informs the commitments described in the Tri-agency statement on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Applicants are encouraged to increase the inclusion and advancement of under-represented and disadvantaged groups in the natural sciences and engineering as one way to enhance excellence in research and training. Consideration of sex, gender and diversity in the research design should be addressed in the proposal. EDI considerations should be developed into the rationale of the composition of research teams and trainees.

For more information, applicants should refer to the Guide for applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application.

Eligibility of applicants and co-applicants

The applicant and all co-applicants must be eligible to hold NSERC funding. One person must be designated to administer the grant. This person is the “applicant” and is responsible for completing and submitting the full application on behalf of the team. You are invited to consult NSERC’s eligibility criteria for faculty for more information on the role of applicants and co-applicants.

Given that this initiative is being delivered jointly by NSERC and PHAC, PHAC employees are not eligible to participate in this funding opportunity as an applicant or co-applicant. They can however participate as a collaborator.

Collaborators

A collaborator is a research scientist or engineer from any sector, e.g., government scientist, academic researcher, company staff member, can be  formally associated with a research team that is applying for a team grant, but will not have access to grant funds. You are invited to consult NSERC’s eligibility criteria for faculty for more information on the role of collaborators.

Use of grant funds

Refer to the Use of grant funds section of the Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration for details on eligible expenses.

Collaborating outside the Natural Sciences and Engineering

Research within the area of emerging infectious disease modelling is multidisciplinary by nature. Applicants are encouraged to collaborate with academic researchers and other collaborators in fields other than the natural sciences and engineering (NSE). Academic researchers outside the NSE may serve as co-applicants if they meet NSERC’s eligibility criteria for faculty. As such, up to 30% funds granted under this funding opportunity may be spent on non-NSE research costs. Note that the overall outcomes must still be tied to meeting the NSE research challenge that is the focus of the overall award.

All non-NSE related expenses must be clearly identified in the Budget Justification section of the application. Please also include a calculation demonstrating that these costs represent 30% or less of the overall costs. Non-NSE expenses must be commensurate with the objectives, scope and scale of the project.

For more information related to the distinction between what is considered to be expenses outside the NSE please consult the This link will take you to another Web site Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency webpage.

Project management expenses

Effective project management demands that the components of a project be constantly monitored and revised with new information. While the applicant is responsible for overall delivery of research results in partnered grants, depending on the size of the collaboration, awards made under this initiative may require additional project management resources to ensure integrated coordination of research activities and timely conveyance of research results.

The maximum level of support for all expenditures related to project management will be up to 10% of the awarded grant. Please consult the application instructions for more information on allowable activities related to project management.

Application procedures

The EIDM funding opportunity will be delivered via a two-stage process. Expressions of Interest were solicited in October 2020. The purpose of this EOI was to facilitate connections and to enhance collaborations between participants in the development of a full application.

The EOI requested the following information:

  • The participant’s name (first, middle and last), affiliation and email address
  • Areas of expertise
  • A list of up to 10 keywords
  • A short description (3–4 sentences) on how you or your organization can contribute to building knowledge, network and capacity on modelling emerging infectious diseases to support public health actions across Canada in the context of pandemics such as COVID-19
  • 1-2 potential peer reviewers
    • Given the nature of this funding opportunity, please suggest reviewers that are unlikely to participate in such a network. This will often be reviewers from outside of Canada.
    • You are encouraged to suggest potential reviewers with appropriate expertise that have different backgrounds (Canadian, international, established and early–career, members of under-represented groups, from academic and non-academic institutions).
    • You must not contact suggested external reviewers in advance.
  • Consent to share information submitted in your expression of interest (name, affiliation, email address, area of expertise, keywords, short description) with everyone else that has also submitted an EOI.

The list of interested individuals (including name, affiliation, email address, area of expertise, keywords and description) was shared through the NSERC secure portal with all participants in the EOI stage.

In order to be eligible to participate in a full application as an applicant or co-applicant you must have submitted an EOI. If you are interested in participating as an applicant or co-applicant but have not submitted an EOI, please contact NSERC at EIDM-MMIE@nserc-crsng.gc.ca.

Full applications

Full applications will be reviewed by a multidisciplinary, international committee through a rigorous, independent peer review process based on the EIDM selection criteria. Excellence in terms of the review criteria at the very highest of international standards must be demonstrated for funding to be awarded to the most meritorious applications. For more information, consult the Instructions for completing an application – form 101.

Applicants may be invited to present their application to the review committee and provide clarification on any issues raised. Given the ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, this would take place in a virtual setting.

Once the review of applications is concluded, the committee will provide recommendations on funding to NSERC.

Conflicts of interest

NSERC’s guidelines on conflict of interest for peer reviewers will be strictly applied throughout the review process.

Review process

Applications will be assessed on the basis of the selection criteria listed below. Each criterion lists the factors that will be considered. The onus is on the applicants to thoroughly address each criterion in their application.

Selection criteria

1. Management and budget

Each network must have an organizational structure appropriate for the management of the research. A strong governance model with a sound management structure is essential to the success of a network.

  • Management – The applicant must have the leadership and other skills necessary to manage a complex, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional project. The network must have an appropriate management structure to direct, manage and integrate the activities of the network (e.g. board of directors, scientific advisory committee, network manager) and to provide financial monitoring and management (see Guidelines for project management expenses). The host institution, applicant, co-applicants and partners must be committed to the effective management of the network. It is expected that networks will have plans for defining policies and practices to support an equitable, diverse and inclusive team environment.
  • Budget – The budget must be justified in accordance to the proposed research and administrative costs. The appropriateness of the overall budget, including any in-kind or cash contributions from partners will also be evaluated. If more than 10% of the NSERC budget request is being used for equipment, prior discussion with NSERC staff is required.

Please note that these elements may not be applicable to all applications. Management of the network is to be commensurate with the objectives, scope and scale of the application.

2. Excellence of the research proposal

The research proposal must be driven by the objectives and anticipated outcomes described above, and is therefore expected to be multidisciplinary and multisectoral.

  • Originality of the research – The network research must promise to generate new knowledge or apply existing knowledge in an innovative manner in the area of emerging infectious diseases modelling.
  • Quality of the research – The network research must be scientifically sound and technically feasible. It must address the objectives and anticipated outcomes of the funding opportunity. Methods and approaches, including the handling and preservation of data, must be appropriate.  (note that a single team does not need to address all of the potential areas of research, but description of the proposed research program should specifically outline which areas are included).
  • Research design – Multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral approaches must be included in the research program. Consideration of sex, gender, diversity and disadvantaged groups in the research design must be described.
  • Network work plan – The network must have a clear and coherent work plan that demonstrates a high probability of achieving the objectives within the two-year time frame.
  • Quality of the applicants as researchers – The research team must have all the expertise to address the defined objectives competently and complete the research successfully. The contributions of individuals to the research effort must be clear. The rationale for the team composition with regards to diversity and equity must be explained.

3. Development of highly qualified personnel (HQP)

Networks will be expected to develop capacity in infectious diseases modelling within Canada through the development of highly qualified personnel from undergraduate students to post-doctoral fellows. The multidisciplinary and multisectoral nature of a network should be utilized to provide unique mentorship and training opportunities.

  • Training potential – The network must provide enhanced opportunities to equitably train a diverse group of students and other highly qualified personnel with skills relevant to the needs identified in this funding opportunity.
  • Training plan – The plan must facilitate the interaction of trainees with other network participants from all sectors to encourage collaboration and multidisciplinary training. Measures that will be implemented to advance diversity and gender equity within the network’s recruitment and training activities must be outlined.

4. Networking, partnerships and knowledge transfer

The network must demonstrate that it has brought together the key individuals and organizations needed to support accelerated infectious diseases modelling efforts and act as a resource to assist the Government of Canada with modelling efforts to support future public health interventions. Networks are expected to generate social and economic benefits by ensuring the rapid flow of ideas and innovations from researchers to Canadian partners and stakeholders.

  • Relevance and strength of proposed partnerships – The network must describe how effective links between federal and provincial agencies, non-governmental organizations, other networks funded by this funding opportunity and private sector participants will be established. Given the deadlines for this funding opportunity, this element includes linkages already in place as well as a strategy for future collaborations and engagement. The partners must have the capacity to apply the results of the research across population sectors including disadvantaged groups, and must be actively involved in all stages of the network. A diverse cross-section of collaborators should be involved to address the proposed issue, including international partners when applicable.
  • Interactions among participants and other networks – The network must have a communication plan in place to ensure effective interaction and information exchange among all participants as well as with other networks funded via this funding opportunity.
  • Knowledge/technology transfer – The network should describe their plans for developing a strategy for knowledge and technology transfer to all stakeholders and the public, as appropriate. The network should support and align with the Government of Canada in establishing mechanisms for sharing methodologies that enhance and build upon existing inventories of open access datasets on infectious diseases.
  • International collaboration (optional) – If applicable, the network should have a strategy to develop or reinforce partnerships with international research groups or experts in areas of mutually beneficial interest to meet the overall objectives of the network.

Where applicable, the proposal should address and present mitigation strategies related to the issues arising from the current COVID-19 situation (e.g. global travel restrictions, remote work environment, etc.) including those related to equity, diversity and inclusion.