ImPaKT Facility receives $16M to fight future pandemics, expand COVID-19 research

By Communications

Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry has received $16 million as part of the new federal Biosciences Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF) for the expansion of its state-of-the-art biocontainment level 3 (CL3) facility – Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Translation (ImPaKT), located within the new Pathogen Research Centre (PRC).

Image of Eric Arts in safety gear

The grant, established in 2021 under the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) funding program, supports the expansion of ImPaKT to include a facility to test new antimicrobial strategies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases through the air and a facility to produce antimicrobial therapies and vaccines for human use. The new facility will also house a clinical-grade drug manufacturing facility, allowing both research and industry partners to produce pharmaceutical-grade drugs right here at Western.

Image of Eric Arts
“We are uniquely positioned in terms of talent, resources and industry partnerships to be the leader in pathogen-fighting research in Canada.”
— Eric Arts, Executive Director, ImPaKT Facility

“The funding will also facilitate the development of a vaccine bank, which will include ready-to-use, pre-formulated vaccines for rapid delivery to prevent the spread of all future epidemics and pandemics – an ambitious but achievable goal for researchers at Western,” said Eric Arts, Executive Director of the ImPaKT Facility.

Today, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, recognized the urgent need for post-secondary and research institutions to upgrade biocontainment facilities to meet the immediate threat of human pathogens and to prepare for the possible pandemics of the future by announcing an investment of more than $127 million through the CFI to support eight biocontainment facilities across Canada. 

As part of the announcement, Western’s ImPaKT Facility, located within Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, will receive $16 million to strengthen its capacity to conduct cutting-edge research on human pathogens and create strong industry partnerships to bring research to the market. This investment by the Government of Canada is being announced as a result of the first BRIF competition. The 2021 federal budget allocated $500 million to support BRIF as part of Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy.

The grant is a crucial next step to support the ImPaKT Facility’s mission to address gaps in Canada’s pandemic response capacity by building an expanded CL3 Pathogen Research Centre (PRC). 

“ImPaKT had just been set up when the pandemic hit, and we responded to it quickly by offering our expertise in pathogen research, and supporting public policy through efforts like our wastewater surveillance program – the first-of-its-kind in Canada,” said Arts, who is a Canada Research Chair in HIV Pathogenesis and Viral Control and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Schulich Medicine. “This announcement recognizes that crucial work and attests to the fact that ImPaKT has the potential to develop into something bigger. We are uniquely positioned in terms of talent, resources and industry partnerships to be the leader in pathogen-fighting research in Canada.”

ImPaKT is a one-of-a-kind facility that combines Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC )-certified containment level standards (CL2+ and CL3) with advanced non-invasive imaging equipment. The CFI-funded facility was among the first in Canada to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting research into virus spread, partnering with the industry to test vaccines, therapeutics, and antimicrobial materials. 

“Western has a long history of leadership in health research, including in virology, infectious diseases and the development of vaccines and other therapeutics,” said Acting Vice-President (Research), Bryan Neff. “During the pandemic, we have seen many of these efforts coalesce at the ImPaKT Facility, which will now be able to facilitate new lines of inquiry and support our research community’s efforts to have a greater impact for a broader range of health challenges, including the effects of long COVID.”

 “The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the importance of cutting-edge research in infectious diseases. Ensuring labs meet standards and are well equipped to combat new challenges in biosciences will contribute to a healthy future for Canadians,” said Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation.