Feature: NOVID-20 Virtual Run supports coronavirus research

By Emily Leighton, MA'13

Solo training is the new normal for runners everywhere. But a Canadian charity is ensuring runners across the globe can still enjoy the camaraderie of a running club, all while pounding the pavement in support of coronavirus vaccine research. 

The NOVID-20 Virtual Run aims to fill the gap left by cancelled spring races and physical distancing guidelines. Using Strava, a popular online platform for tracking running and cycling activities, participants can connect with other runners in their local community and sign up for monthly challenges. 

Money raised will support two initiatives: coronavirus research at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation.

“Recognizing that this virus will evolve, we wanted to support a research project that is taking a proactive approach in thinking about and preparing for the next strain,” said Blaine Penny, one of the founders of NOVID-20. “The research taking place at Western embraces that visionary philosophy.” 

With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, researchers at the School are establishing and testing an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes COVID-19. The team is also developing a ‘vaccine bank’ that will contain ready-made vaccines to be used rapidly at the start of another coronavirus outbreak. The work is being led by Eric Arts, PhD, Stephen Barr, PhD, Chil-Yong Kang, PhD, and Ryan Troyer, PhD. 

Nearly 1,000 runners are participating in NOVID-20, representing 43 cities in seven countries worldwide. To date, they have raised more than $2,400, with a total campaign goal of $20,000. 

The name NOVID-20 stands for ‘No Viral Disease in 2020,’ conveying the opposite of COVID-19. “We’re saying no to COVID in 2020,” explained Penny. 

The virtual run was initially rolled out for April, but organizers have pushed it into May and June. “A lot of runners are looking for ways to stay motivated,” said Penny. “This unites the running community with an altruistic purpose. We’ll continue as long as physical distancing remains a part of all our lives.” 

Penny is the CEO and Co-Founder of MitoCanada, a charitable organization focused on mitochondrial disease. As an immuno-compromised population, patients living with the disease are at a higher risk when it comes to COVID-19. “Without a vaccine, this is a serious risk to our patient population,” he said. “From a personal standpoint, this was something to do in response to the pandemic and to help make a difference.” 

Sign-up for the NOVID-20 Virtual Run