BioLAB Volume 35 issue 3

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Carolina Tropini The award-winning biophysicist is seeking answers hidden in the gut


VOLUME 35, ISSUE 3 • 2020

Food insecurity in the spotlight


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special features




The award-winning biophysicist is applying her skills to understand gut microbes and their effect on health

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Abigail Cukier Jessica Huras Jana Manolakos David Suzuki Sean Tarry



BioLab Business is published 4 times per year by Jesmar Communications Inc., 30 East Beaver Creek Rd., Suite 202, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1J2. 905.886.5040 Fax: 905.886.6615 One year subscription: Canada $35, US $35 and foreign $95. Single copies $9. Please add GST/HST where applicable. BioLab Business subscription and circulation enquiries: Garth Atkinson, Fax: 905.509.0735 Subscriptions to business address only. On occasion, our list is made available to organizations whose products or services may be of interest to you. If you’d rather not receive information, write to us at the address above or call 905.509.3511 The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in part or in whole without the written consent of the publisher. GST Registration #R124380270.

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This year, we flattened the curve, reopened – and paid the price. As we finish producing this issue, Ontario is seeing its most daily cases of COVID-19. A vaccine recently arrived, and another is pending approval. Many regions are in lockdown, once again, while Canada struggles to rein in the virus. Meanwhile, in countries like New Zealand and Taiwan, it’s almost as if the pandemic doesn’t exist. Some countries are winning the fight, while others are brought to their knees. For this issue, we delved into the topic – what is Canada doing well to fight the pandemic, and where do we need to improve? Everyone has their opinions, but one answer is clear: We need to invest in science, even more than we already do. Those investments are invaluable, not just for fighting a pandemic, but in preparing for the next big health crisis. Long before COVID-19, “health and disease” was a topic we chose to focus on for this issue, and most of this year it has been the top headline in daily news. Only when our way of life is threatened does the general public pay attention, or so it seems. Today it’s a pandemic, tomorrow… let’s not wait to find out what problems will need to be solved. For decades, scientists have warned us about the fragility of our climate and human health – most disasters are not a complete surprise, but when the scientific process is weighted with debate, opinion and misinformation in the public realm, the facts get lost in the noise. A catchy headline can overlook the most important point of a story, but many people don’t read past the headlines these days. This magazine aims to share a deeper look at the scientific process and how important discoveries are made, from a human perspective – these are the people, companies and institutions who are ushering in a safer future, and trying to solve the problems that exist, or those we anticipate might arise. Our duty as humans is to listen, share information and learn from the wisdom of others; in science, this opens the doors for future discovery and innovation. In daily life, this is how we evolve into better people. This year has forced the world to pause and listen to science. Barriers have broken down – as a planet, we have worked together to fight a common enemy. Maybe, in some ways, that was what we needed to realize the importance of a global effort to advance science. As we cautiously welcome 2021, many can agree that one of the most difficult years of our lifetime has left us more resilient than ever. And 2020 was not without its moments to celebrate, so I want to remind our readers that for the first time, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was won by two women, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna; in 2012, they discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic “scissors” that are so widely used in science today. This is especially significant when you look at the total number of Laureates in chemistry: 186, of which only seven are women. Sometimes it takes a few years to see the importance of a discovery or historic event. As we look back at 2020, I think greater distance will demonstrate that this year shaped the future in a way that few have, in the history of humanity. One of the results I hope for is a renewed determination to catch the next disruption Popi Bowman before it happens – if that’s even possible. Science is our MANAGING EDITOR only hope.

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Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Ian Hanington is Senior Editor, David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at

he global call for a just, green recovery from COVID-19 will require planning for the short and long term. One immediate need is to stop subsidizing the polluting, climate-altering fossil fuel industry – other than to create opportunities for workers displaced by automation, market forces and now this pandemic. That isn’t happening. According to research by a consortium of 14 organizations on the Energy Policy Tracker website, Canada has pumped more than $12 billion into supporting the fossil fuel industry since the pandemic started, but only about $2 billion into clean energy. (More than $10 billion of the fossil fuel money is unconditional, whereas only about $260 million of the clean energy money is unconditional.) That’s a wider gap than the G20 overall, with $165 billion for fossil fuels and $137 billion for clean energy. The subsidies can be in the form of tax breaks, relaxed regulations and reporting requirements, direct investments in infrastructure like pipelines, and more. It’s not that people running fossil fuel companies are having a tough time. Shareholders may be getting poor returns, but many senior executives are being awarded millions of dollars in “performance based” bonuses on top of their generous salaries. It isn’t just about money and economics. Clean tech creates more and better jobs than the fossil fuel industry, and shifting support toward it can spark innovative solutions to the problems we’ve created by indiscriminately burning oil, coal and gas. Bailing out an industry that should have started winding down decades ago is no way to build societal resilience in the face of climate, biodiversity and health crises. Providing support for displaced workers is necessary, including helping people transition to other industries. Even funding a workforce to clean up some of the many orphaned oil and gas

wells throughout the country – as the federal government is doing – is a start, although industry should be responsible. As an International Institute for Sustainable Development report says, “There is also a need to support those who are unemployed, underemployed or in precarious work situations.” But pipeline subsidies, relaxed regulations and reporting requirements and tax breaks for industry shouldn’t be on the table. We need to move away from fossil fuels, not ensure their ubiquitous persistence. When we see the money flowing to this outdated, destructive industry, and the lengths authorities here, in the U.S. and elsewhere go to crack down on land defenders and peaceful protesters while protecting fossil fuel infrastructure, it’s hard not to think industry has captured governments and other parts of society. According to the Guardian, a recent U.S. investigation found large oil and gas companies, private utilities and financial institutions that bankroll fossil fuels are supporting police foundations, which raise money for training, weapons, equipment and surveillance technology throughout the U.S. For decades, people have been saying, “We can’t get off fossil fuels overnight.” But unless we start now, we’ll run out of time. While the climate emergency and dropping prices and demand had the fossil fuel industry struggling even before COVID-19, Canada’s clean tech sector has been especially hard hit during the pandemic, as many companies are startups and small enterprises that rely on investors. The sector – which includes everything from renewable energy and recycling technology to electric vehicles and charging stations – was doing well before the pandemic, but mounting job and revenue losses are putting it at risk. If governments are to subsidize corporate Canada in their pandemic recovery efforts, especially energy-related industries, they should look to the future, not the past. Canada could be a leader in 21st century innovation rather than continuing to prop up and rely on sunset industries the world has agreed must be phased out quickly to keep global heating from exceeding catastrophic levels. The longer we delay phasing out fossil fuels, the tougher it will become. Pursuing a wasteful, endlessly growing consumerist fantasy has distanced us from our true natures and from the things that bring true joy – like spending time with loved ones, and experiencing nature – all while wreaking havoc on air, water and land, and everything that makes this planet habitable for us and other life. These are difficult times, but they’re also times of opportunity. We can and must do better.




Approximately 400,000 people have died from Hep C so far this year, worldwide.

Hasani was instrumental in reconfiguring the Clean Flow system and identifying the operating parameters to decontaminate N95 masks.

is helping us in the fight against COVID-19 and protecting front-line workers.” Hasani was instrumental in reconfiguring the Clean Flow system and identifying the operating parameters to decontaminate N95 masks. The research was passed to Beamsville-based Clean Works Inc., whose team built a commercial unit within three weeks. Commercialized by Clean Works, the process was approved by Health Canada and is now installed in hospitals across the country.

This October, University of Alberta virologist Michael Houghton received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for his role in discovering the Hepatitis C virus; he shares the prize with American colleagues Harvey Alter and Charles Rice. It is the second time that a Canadian scientist has won the prize since it was first awarded to Frederick Banting and John Macleod in 1923. Houghton says, “As nice as [winning the prize is], we’ve been able to prevent millions of infections that otherwise would have occurred around the world through the blood supply.” He notes that approximately 400,000 people have died from Hep C so far this year, worldwide. Dr. Houghton is now leading an effort to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. He was successful in creating a vaccine for SARS-CoV-1 in 2004; however, the pandemic was over before the vaccine could be used.


When postdoctoral fellow Mahdiyeh Hasani of University of Guelph came to Canada in 2017 and began working with Professor Keith Warriner to decontaminate produce, she had no idea that in just a few years, a global pandemic would dramatically change the world – and the impact of her research. Together they worked on repurposing their food disinfection technology to clean N95 masks used in hospitals and long-term care homes. “We realized that decontaminating masks is similar to cleaning fresh produce, in that microbes can hide in nooks and folds,” says Hasani, “and that the materials used in masks is sensitive to damage, like fruit.” Originally designed to quickly and effectively clean fresh produce, the Clean Flow system (marketed by Clean Works Corp. in Beamsville, Ontario) was successfully adapted by Hasani to sanitize N95 respirators and is now being applied to a whole host of different surfaces, and may soon be a tool every home can use to sanitize household items. The rapid waterless decontamination unit generates antimicrobials by using a combination of natural UV light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone. The breakthrough work earned the team Guelph University’s Innovation of the Year Award this past fall and more recently earned Hasani the Mitacs and NRCIRAP Award for Commercialization. Mitacs is a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. “I never imagined that this technology would advance this far, this quickly,” says Hasani, who re-engineered the process to make it more effective and versatile. “We’re essentially replicating a reaction that occurs in nature, and optimizing it to provide solutions for both industrial and general use.” Warriner explains, “We talk a lot about research grants and papers, but I think every researcher’s desire is that their research will make a difference. It is really good that this





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The Milne Ice Shelf on the northwest coast of Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island has broken up, reducing in size by almost half and setting large ice islands adrift in the Arctic Ocean. The 4,000-year-old feature shattered in July, taking with it almost half of the ice shelf and plummeting 81 square kilometres of ice into the surrounding ocean. One large ice island was created at that time, but it split into two large chunks, along with numerous smaller icebergs. Carleton University’s Derek Mueller, professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, explains, “Our research focus is to learn more about how ice shelves destabilize and break up in a warming climate.” The researchers were unable to be in the field this summer due to pandemic restrictions, but used satellite images to track the event. The Milne Ice Shelf is the most recent of Canada’s ice shelves to deteriorate. At the start of the 20th century, there was a single ice shelf, one-and-a-half times larger than Prince Edward Island, stretching along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. By 2000, it had divided into six large ice shelves and several minor ones. The Milne Ice Shelf was considered to be one of the least vulnerable since it is well-protected in Milne Fiord, but it sustained many fractures over the past 12 years. “This drastic decline in ice shelves is clearly related to climate change,” says Luke Copland, research chair in Glaciology in the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa. “This summer has been up to 5°C warmer than the average over the period from 1981 to 2010, and the region has been warming at two to three times the global rate. The Milne and other ice shelves in Canada are simply not viable any longer and will disappear in the coming decades.” Mueller and Copland’s research into ice shelf changes is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Polar Continental Shelf Program and ArcticNet.

A $62-million state-of-the-art Applied Science Hub has opened at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus in Montreal. Funded in part with a $52.75-million investment by the governments of Canada and Quebec, the hub houses laboratories and research equipment supporting agriculture, health and sustainable development. Onsite researchers work in areas like aquatic biology, microscopy, cellular imaging, nanoscience, bioprocessing and chemical and materials engineering. Concordia President Graham Carr says, “The Applied Science Hub will be a major nexus of transdisciplinary collaboration, where industry actors, start-ups and entrepreneurs partner with our graduate students and faculty on next-generation research.”

Onsite researchers work in areas like aquatic biology, microscopy, cellular imaging, nanoscience, bioprocessing and chemical and materials engineering.

NEW TREATMENT FOR PEANUT ALLERGIES A study out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) and BC Children’s Hospital gives hope to kids with peanut allergies. Researchers showed that a new peanut allergy treatment significantly reduced the risk of lifethreatening reactions in preschoolers. Led by Dr. Edmond Chan, head of pediatric allergy and immunology at UBC’s faculty of medicine and clinical investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the study is the first to demonstrate that exposing children to small, regular doses of an allergen like peanuts is effective in reducing the risk of allergic reactions and eliminates the need for epinephrine injections.




oceanographic vessels and specialized sailing boats. Stopovers with local communities around the Atlantic basin will engage in outreach, citizen science and awareness campaigns, delivering a wide-ranging capacity-building program for professionals, students and young people. AtlantECO will determine how marine regions and their ecosystems are connected by developing models that account for dynamic processes such as large river plumes and ocean circulation. These models will help predict the migration of species, the ability of the ocean to capture and store carbon dioxide, the transport of pollutants and hazards, and the balance between ecosystem health and human activities. The project hopes to shed light on the early detection of harmful threats in aquaculture sites, the impact on microbiomes and coastal ecosystems of mining off the coast of South Africa, the impact of climate change on fisheries value chains, the response of microbiomes to offshore drilling and the impact of fossil fuel extraction off the coast of Brazil. This huge scientific undertaking reflects the Belém Statement, co-signed in July 2017 by the European Union, Brazil and South Africa, which aims to fill knowledge gaps between the widely studied North Atlantic and the understudied South Atlantic regions.

Researchers at Australia’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research have uncovered a new form of DNA modification in the genome of zebrafish, a vertebrate animal that shares an evolutionary ancestor with humans 400 million years ago. Dr. Ozren Bogdanovic and his team discovered that unusually high levels of DNA repeats of the sequence ‘TGCT’ in the zebrafish genome undergo a modification called methylation, which may change the shape or activity of the surrounding DNA. The study could lead to the development of new experimental models for exploring how DNA modifications impact human development and disease.


The health of the Atlantic Ocean is the focal point of a new sweeping initiative, AtlantECO, undertaken this fall by 36 organizations, including the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) to explore the Atlantic Ocean from pole to pole. Funded by the European Union, the project will map new and existing knowledge about the microscopic organisms that inhabit rivers, coastal waters, the open ocean, marine sediments and the atmosphere. The study also will analyze microbes found on plastic litter, which is now a part of all these environments. “The colossal amount of data generated will be curated and openly shared with the international scientific community, allowing researchers everywhere to build their own analysis and modelling tools,” explains Guy Cochrane, team leader of data coordination and archiving at EMBL-EBI. “This kind of international and interdisciplinary work will help us understand the impact human activity has on oceans.” Microbiomes support life on Earth and are key to understanding marine ecosystems. Inspired by medical research that combines next-generation genetic, imaging and environmental approaches, AtlantECO will develop diagnostic tools and metrics to assess and predict changes in the health of the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers will conduct fieldwork via national



EYE ON THE SKY IN AUSTRALIA In the race for deep space discovery, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) is pushing light years ahead. The telescope conducted its first survey of the entire southern sky in record speed and detail, creating a new atlas of the universe. Part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the telescope mapped approximately three million galaxies in just 300 hours. CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall explains, “ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the universe, and equipping astronomers around the world with new breakthroughs to solve their challenges.” The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google map of the universe, where most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies – about a million of which we’ve never seen before. The telescope’s key feature is its wide field of view, which enables it to take panoramic pictures of the sky in amazing detail. Using ASKAP at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy

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BRAIN HORMONES DISCOVERED THAT ‘FEEL’ SOCIAL ACTIVITY Have you recently wondered how social-distancing and self-isolation may be affecting you? An international research team led by Erin Schuman from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research discovered a brain molecule that functions as a “thermometer” for the presence of others in an animal’s environment. Zebrafish “feel” others via mechano-sensation and water movements, which turns the brain hormone on. Through RNA sequencing, researchers showed that neuronal genes respond to dramatic changes in the social environment. The data indicated a role for a relatively unexplored neuropeptide, Pth2, which tracks and responds to the population density of an animal’s social environment.

Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia, the survey team observed 83 percent of the entire sky. Innovative receivers with phased array feed technology that was developed at CSIRO allow ASKAP to generate more raw data at a faster rate than Australia’s entire internet traffic. “In a time when we have access to more data than ever before, ASKAP and the supercomputers that support it are delivering unparalleled insights and wielding the tools that will underpin our data-driven future to make life better for everybody,” notes Marshall.

The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google map of the universe, where most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies – about a million of which we’ve never seen before.

GENDER INEQUITY AT MEDICAL CONFERENCES A study released this September by a team of international researchers found that women speakers were under-represented at medical conferences. In this cross-sectional analysis of 23,440 speakers at 98 conferences across 20 specialties between March 2017 and November 2018, 30.1 percent of speakers were women and 36.6 percent of panels were all-male. There was a significant positive correlation between the proportion of women on planning committees and representation of female speakers. A similar study released this November by a U.S.-based research team out of Boston University resulted in the same conclusion.


Healthcare Insiders Weigh in on Canada’s Pandemic Response We asked, they answered BY ABIGAIL CUKIER


Dr. Ronald St. John Served as the first Director General of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada

What is Canada’s weak spot, and greatest strength, in the fight against COVID-19?

Canada has had a lot of strengths in terms of people’s compliance with our recommendations. People have listened and we had a period in which we almost


n late January, a Toronto man who had travelled to Wuhan, China – the epicentre of COVID-19 – was diagnosed with Canada’s first presumptive case of the virus. Since then, there have been more than 500,000 confirmed cases (as of mid-December), and almost 15,000 deaths. The pandemic continues to affect almost every aspect of life in Canada and around the world. BioLab Business reached out to a variety of public health and biotech experts to look at the impact of COVID-19 on the scientific industry, as well as Canada’s strengths and weaknesses in responding to the virus and how we can be prepared for the next pandemic.



Andrew Casey President and CEO, BIOTECanada

Dr. Monika Dutt Public health specialist and family physician in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Jason Field, PhD President and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario

Dr. Charu Kaushic Scientific Director, Institute of Infection and Immunity, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

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Tracey Maconachie Deputy Minister, Economic Development and Training, Manitoba; former President, Bioscience Association Manitoba

Dr. Ronald St. John Served as the first Director General of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada

Eric Morrissette Chief, Media Relations, Public Health Agency of Canada

flattened the curve. Compared to a lot of countries, we have fared well, especially on a per capita basis. I think the weakest spot we have is complacency, as well as misinformation. The public health community is relatively slow and not as creative as the people who push out conspiracy theories and bogus treatments and concerns about vaccines, and all that kind of stuff. They are very fast and they play on emotion and they use anecdotes, the study of one. Public health doesn’t like to do studies of one. We like to do studies of hundreds of thousands, so we tend to be slow off the start. And we are also playing catch-up with social media and the unfortunate misinformation that gets pushed through on those channels. Complacency is also an issue. I think there’s so much pressure to move towards opening an economy that it may happen too fast and we will see a rebound [editor’s note: these comments were received before the “second wave” began]. The virus is totally dependent on our individual behaviours and our collective behaviours because we don’t have anything else to control this virus. And if those behaviours change and they loosen up, then the virus is right there.

How can we better prepare for the next pandemic?

The easy answer is, we can’t. When I was first Director General of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada, we talked about being prepared for all hazards and all possibilities. But I told the Minister, we can’t prepare for Armageddon because no one knows what Armageddon will be. So we prepare for things that happen every year in Canada. We know we’re going to have floods in the spring. We know we’re going to have forest fires in summer. We know we’re going to have outbreaks of some disease. And we prepare for those kinds of things. That means planning, it means training and the use of the incident management system for responding to a situation. We did have a pandemic plan for influenza. And unfortunately, I don’t know how many people read that plan or were familiar with the plan. But the trouble with plans is, unless you practice them, they end up dusty on the shelf. And there’s a tendency when nothing is happening to stop practicing. Governments are very fond of providing lots of money when something is happening, and you can see that with COVID-19. But governments sometimes pull back when there’s nothing happening, and that’s the time when you


Jason Field President and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario

What have been the immediate impacts of the pandemic on the scientific industry?

I’ve observed a shift in the public perception of science. For years, we’ve seen public trust in science deteriorating and the rise of misinformation, such as the anti-vaccine movement. But COVID-19 has thrust science back into the spotlight, and I think the sector has done a remarkable job at communicating the complexity of the science to the masses. We’ve seen politicians, public health officials and frontline workers leading the charge on communicating what citizens need to do to bend the curve. Scientists are explaining the complexities of developing vaccines and how the industry is working to accelerate this process without sacrificing safety. My hope is that the public and their elected representatives take this knowledge with them beyond the pandemic and continue to recognize the importance of investing in the life sciences sector.

What is Canada’s weak spot, and greatest strength, in the fight against COVID?

Canada’s response to COVID-19 has been excellent. Governments at all levels have mobilized quickly to respond with enormous support programs; however, this rapid response has created some gaps in support. Many life sciences small- and medium-sized enterprises and startups are pre-revenue, and therefore are not able to access many of the emergency support programs. These types of companies represent the next generation of innovative health technologies and need support to ensure their survival through these challenging times.

We need a coordinated life sciences strategy, one that provides adequate investments in research, commercialization and adoption – one that is forward-looking. – Jason Field, President and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario

What can science and government do better?

Work together. Prior to COVID-19, there has been a somewhat adversarial relationship between governments and private life sciences firms, particularly pharmaceutical companies. But what COVID-19 has shown us is that we need to hit the reset button on this relationship. Governments at all levels need to collaborate and partner with the private sector to help accelerate the development and adoption of new health technologies and strengthen both our health system and economy – and not just during a health crisis.

How can we better prepare for the next pandemic?

We need a coordinated life sciences strategy, one that provides adequate investments in research, commercialization and adoption – one that is forward-looking and recognizes the importance of emerging technologies such as genomics, cell therapy, artificial intelligence and digital health.

Is funding keeping up with the need for research?

No. There has been an enormous shift of resources towards COVID-19-related research, but it has been somewhat at the cost of investments into other areas of health research. For example, many health charities have seen contributions reduced by 30 to 50 percent. This is millions of dollars that would otherwise go to supporting research into other areas of health, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Andrew Casey President and CEO, BIOTECanada

How has COVID-19 disrupted, but also boosted, the scientific industry?

We need vaccines and therapeutics. Those are all going to come out of the biotech industry, so it became an exciting place to work, because we are all working towards that. That’s what’s going to allow us to return to a kind of normal. It’s been quite exciting to be at the forefront and create some sort of hope and optimism.

What can the scientific industry and government do better?

We have a long history of innovation in science and research in this country, and we’ve got fantastic scientists and researchers. I think that’s led to some great companies. Where we’re falling behind is in not taking a lot of companies across the finish line, so we’re seeing them being sold off to other companies. It would be great for Canada to start developing some companies that are grown to become commercial and become anchor companies in Canada. Think about BlackBerry in KitchenerWaterloo and what that has done to that area, where it is now a tech hub. What we need to do is create some BlackBerry-like


should be investing in preparedness and planning, training and simulating.



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companies in the life sciences space that grow and become want Canadians to have access to it? So there’s a disconnect commercial on a global scale, and then that will create spinoffs, between the investments they make in developing products in terms of people, but also other ideas and other companies. and the purchase of these for the good of Canadians. That’s where we are kind of falling short, and then that leads I think they need to recognize that they are tied together and back to why? One reason for this, probably the biggest one, is we need to support companies, not only for the development we need more investment capital. We've got a pretty robust and the early commercialization, but also by being the first venture capital system with some great companies, but we customer. need more critical capital partners and bigger volumes of cash. We have companies who developed technologies and say We have asked in our pre-budget submission for the federal my first customer is going to be in Europe or China, because government to invest $500 million in a dedicated life sciences I can actually get my product on the market there. To get it fund. This would attract other investment from outside on the market in Canada is almost impossible. Not because Canada and ideally, large institutional investors. That would it’s dangerous, but because our procurement process is so help address the other challenge, challenging. which is access to talent. We need to Our health system procures for very do a better job of attracting people, specific items. They procure for yellow One thing is fairly clear: and keeping the great scientists and pencils with black pointed tips and pink There are going to be researchers we are developing at our erasers, rather than procuring for writing great universities. Quite often, the way devices. Our procurement process doesn’t some sectors of the to do that is to pay them properly. We say, “Do you have a new way of managing economy that are going diabetes?” It says, if you have a diabetes are competing with U.S. companies with U.S. dollars. They tend to have treatment, you can put it into the queue. to be very slow deeper pockets as well, because there is But if it’s more expensive than the old to recover, or not return ones, we’re not going to look at it. It’s more investment there. One thing is fairly clear: There very, very targeted, and that makes it at all. So what is going are going to be some sectors of the really difficult if you have something that economy that are going to be very slow nobody’s ever done before. And that’s what to substitute for those things to recover, or not return at all. So what a lot of Canadian companies are building, in the economy while they are is going to substitute for those things something nobody’s done before. in the economy while they are on the on the mend? mend? I think that is what biotech can How can we better prepare for represent. It could be the cornerstone – Andrew Casey, President and CEO, the next pandemic? upon which you can build. It is also BIOTECanada We need to find ways to look at our supply strategically important work, if you are chain within procurement. We were thinking about the next pandemic or put at risk and still to some extent are, healthcare crisis. It helps us from a healthcare aspect, as well because most of our supply chain is from outside of Canada. as an economic standpoint. And we need to say, is it worth paying a little bit of a premium to have a product made in Canada as our preferred supplier? Rather than relying on an outside supplier, could we actually Tracey Maconachie have a local company producing gowns or gloves or some of Deputy Minister, Economic Development and Training, those key essential pieces? What can we do to be more selfManitoba sufficient? Other countries, too – we were all very global. That doesn’t work in a pandemic.

What can the scientific industry and government do better?

Governments have been really supportive of novel science and technology in terms of making investments. But when it comes to actually buying the goods, there has not always been a connection between, “We invested millions of dollars in this company and now they’ve made this treatment” and then the government says, “Well no, we’re not interested in procuring it because it’s novel and nobody’s ever used it before.” But we spent millions of dollars to develop it, why wouldn’t you

Are there companies or researchers that might be “flying under the radar” but making a big difference in COVID-19 research?

There are so many that are doing amazing things. And sometimes, somebody is doing research and determines that their theory is not true – that actually makes a difference. There were researchers across Canada who proved hydroxychloroquine wasn’t actually a treatment for COVID-19, so we could stop doing that research and direct it


even with all the reports that came out after significant events. Will we continue the same cycle? So to me, beyond thinking about what exciting new technology are we using, do we even have the starting point to support a strong public health system? I think as a country, we had generally effective responses and managed to keep illness and death at a manageable level. At the same time, we know that some people, especially those who are elderly and some racialized groups and others, are disproportionately affected. The weaknesses and the inequities that existed before continued right on into the pandemic.

How can we better prepare for the next pandemic?

We have been very focused on the infection and transmission and very specific aspects of the virus, but it’s the social and economic policies that create healthier communities that make us better able to deal with stresses like this. So policies like access to childcare and access to a livable income are the kind of things we want to put in place, so that people aren’t at the greater risk they might be should something like this come along in the future.

Eric Morrissette Chief, Media Relations, Public Health Agency of Canada

Dr. Monika Dutt Public health specialist and family physician in Sydney, Nova Scotia

What is Canada’s weak spot, and greatest strength, in the fight against COVID?

I think the biggest thing is that public health is chronically underfunded. It’s funded at like two to five percent of a healthcare budget, so despite getting a lot of attention right now, that’s a huge weakness. We haven’t invested in the past,

What is Canada’s weak spot, and greatest strength, in the fight against COVID-19?

To respond to this pandemic, federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada undertook an unprecedented wholeof-government approach, along with significant global engagement and collaboration. Canada flattened the curve for COVID-19 and our acute care system was not overwhelmed. This was due to the efforts of health leaders from around the country, continually communicating, coordinating and cooperating with us at the federal level. Public health authorities across Canada at all levels of government worked diligently to adapt Canada’s response to the rapidly changing situation and reacted quickly to evolving evidence as we rolled out decisions and recommendations. Going forward, establishing effective protections in vulnerable settings and an increase in science-based decisionmaking for the more complete, timely and integrated data will be essential. Because of inequalities in our society, some densely populated living and working environments are particularly vulnerable to the spread of this virus. This includes long-term care homes. We saw that residents of long-term care homes are especially vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. We cannot, and should not, accept the status quo for long-term care homes. That is why governments across Canada have


in other areas. So sometimes, making a difference isn’t hitting a homerun – sometimes, it’s about getting an answer and being able to move on to the other thing. Because of the timelines and the urgency, some researchers are going back to old school things and saying, this was good 30 years ago, would it be good now and how can we repurpose it? There has been research around using Heparin potentially as a treatment, or going back and finding old models for ventilators that can be useful. Those are all different ways of looking at research, and not just being focused on the vaccine or the treatment. We need to find the little wins. That’s what’s going to get us to the point where we can go back to close to normal as a community.


made commitments to do more. Taking care of these higherrisk individuals is essential to our country’s handling of the pandemic and in keeping rates of severe illness and death as low as possible.

What can science and government do better?

The rapidly evolving knowledge of COVID-19, combined with local and regional differences, raises notable challenges in developing and updating evidence-informed guidance to all Canadians on how to protect themselves against this virus. The Government of Canada is striving to effectively adapt public health measures, policies and guidance with this fastevolving state of medical knowledge. There is a constant need to communicate how science, research and innovation work so that Canadians are better prepared to recognize sound and reputable recommendations. Providing Canadians with credible sources of information about COVID-19 through a variety of means, including regular press briefings, web information, advertising and social media, are important ways we combat misinformation. The Government of Canada has made significant investments in science and research related to COVID-19. There is an ongoing need to also better understand the indirect social and economic consequences of the epidemic.

How can we better prepare for the next pandemic?

Every pandemic is different in terms of characteristics, like spread, severity of disease and which people are most vulnerable. As Dr. Tam has noted, if you have seen one pandemic, then you have only seen one pandemic. While the Public Health Agency of Canada has been a part of Canada’s response to other pandemics, COVID-19 is unlike any pandemic the world has experienced in over 100 years. Like all novel viruses, there are many unknowns and more information is being discovered each day. Ongoing research efforts from the scientific community are pivotal to our response to this pandemic. In Canada, the SARS pandemic in particular highlighted the importance of interprovincial collaboration, and the COVID-19 pandemic is providing the opportunity to put those lessons into practice. Canada’s current response to COVID-19 was guided by the FPT Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events, which was approved by all federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) government jurisdictions in 2017 and the established FPT Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan. Even with these plans in place, public health authorities across Canada at all levels of government worked together to adapt Canada’s response to the rapidly changing pandemic situation. Since it is difficult to predict the science and specifics of a pandemic scenario, Canada’s response must be nimble and evolve as new evidence and best practices are developed.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, new planning and reflections will certainly be undertaken to better incorporate lessons learned. A significant lesson concerns health equity challenges. This includes addressing ageism, racism and ableism, which have become woven throughout our society, and are reflective of who has been hardest hit from this pandemic. The lessons learned from this pandemic will help us continue to improve mitigating negative health outcomes in our most vulnerable communities and strengthen future guidance on infection prevention and control.

Is funding keeping up with the need for research?

Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been steadfast and based on scientific evidence. We’ve adapted our public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide guidance to healthcare workers so they have the appropriate tools they need to treat patients. Yet, there is still more to learn about COVID-19. To understand this new disease, we need to advance research and technology development to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of this infection. International collaboration in science and research is


In worst-case scenarios, how does COVID-19 rank (i.e., is this just the tip of the iceberg)?

Pandemics of respiratory illness always rank high when looking at health risks in the population. This is driven by the size of the susceptible population, the mode of transmission of the virus – for example, respiratory, as opposed to something that is bloodborne or sexually transmitted – and the potential severity of the illness in large portions of the population, such as the elderly. COVID-19 being caused by a novel pathogen means that we are limited compared to other potential pandemic pathogens like influenza, for which we have vaccine technology in place and ready to go. Finally, the potential for spread from asymptomatic people, as has been seen with COVID-19, is an additional public health management challenge.

Dr. Charu Kaushic Scientific Director, Institute of Infection and Immunity, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

How has COVID-19 disrupted, or even boosted, the scientific industry?

COVID-19 has been extremely disruptive to research communities across academic institutions, since universities and associated research was shut down for almost four months. Once you shut research projects for that long, it has long-term consequences on how long it takes to get projects up and going, affects graduate students’ timelines, preparation for grant applications, papers for publication. It is a domino effect; however, one area where there has been a significant boost is COVID-19 research and laboratories that study pandemic viruses, epidemiology, viral immunology and related fields. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), through investment from the federal government, has invested more than $165 million in new research dollars, funding 240 research grants in the last six months in the area of COVID-19 medical and social countermeasures, vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, clinical management and health systems, as well as social, policy and public health responses.

The pandemic has really raised awareness among the public regarding the importance and value of science and research, which has been maybe the only silver lining! – Dr. Charu Kaushic, Scientific Director, Institute of Infection and Immunity, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

What do you see as immediate and long-term impacts?

The pandemic has really raised awareness among the public regarding the importance and value of science and research, which has been maybe the only silver lining! Globally, governments are realizing the importance of pandemic preparedness, too; if possible, avoid getting into this type of situation in the future. That means that science and research will receive better recognition and hopefully, better support from the public and governments. The impact on the way research is done is profound. The speed and openness in sharing research results and data has been unprecedented, and the ability for the global research community to collaborate and move the field forward has been amazing. The work that has been accomplished in understanding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease has been astonishing. I hope that this spirit of openness and sharing of science will carry over into the post-pandemic period.

Is funding keeping up with the need for research?

The federal government has made significant investments in research and innovation in the COVID-19 field in the last nine months. Two large investments, a total of $165 million through CIHR, have really boosted research efforts into COVID-19. The funding was all new dollars and did not affect CIHR’s annual budget and investment into other areas of research, so overall, Canadian researchers have seen a significant increase in total research funding. This will hopefully benefit both COVID-19 and non-COVID related areas.


important. Canada needs to focus on its strength in research while collaborating with scientists, health organizations and partners around the world to gain knowledge and find solutions. That is why the Government of Canada has mobilized Canada’s research and scientific communities in response to the spread of COVID-19. To date, the Government of Canada has announced more than $1 billion in support of medical research to fight COVID-19, including vaccine development, production of treatments and tracking the virus.




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his year, how we interact with our neighbours and participate within our communities has been transformed by safety measures and protocols imposed by health authorities everywhere. And while these inconveniences present us with unfamiliar challenges, the real impact of COVID-19 lies in the extraordinary number of infections and deaths associated with its escalation. Without question, the virus has left an indelible mark on the year 2020. In an effort to make a return to normalcy, scientists and researchers across the country (and around the world) are working tirelessly to develop vaccines and treatments that can help stop the spread of the coronavirus once and for all – while preparing for the next pandemic. Applications of the work and research currently being conducted range from the development of thermographic cameras that use artificial intelligence to detect elevated temperatures, to studying llama nanobodies in an effort to

control or neutralize the severity of the coronavirus. What follows are snapshots of some of today’s most courageous Canadian-based scientific endeavours as they relate to the detection, understanding, treatment and quest to find a cure for COVID-19. IMV Inc. This Nova Scotia–based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company – which develops immunotherapies to help fight cancer and other serious diseases, with the support of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) – advanced into Phase I clinical development of its COVID vaccine candidate, DPXCOVID-19, this summer. Recently, the Canadian Government increased funding for this project to a total of $10 million.


Arch Biopartners In September, this Toronto-based biophysics company received approval from the Istanbul University Ethics Committee in Turkey to advance into the Phase 2 trial of its drug LSALT peptide (Metablok). By mid-October, the first patient was dosed at the Broward Health Medical Center in

Florida, where patient recruitment for the trial continues; the company is also recruiting patients at clinical sites in Louisiana and Turkey. LSALT peptide was developed to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19 by targeting acute lung injury and acute kidney injury caused by inflammation. The Phase 2 trial is described by the company as “an international, multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof of concept study” aimed at preventing organ inflammation, one of the widely recognized triggers of respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute kidney injury (AKI) in patients infected with COVID-19. The Ethics Committee approval of the trial in Turkey will be followed by a regulatory review conducted by the Turkish Ministry of Health (MoH). Results of Phase 2 will be used to design a Phase 3 trial, which will include a greater number of patients receiving optimal drug dosing. “We continue to work quickly with our Turkish partners to expand the LSALT peptide Phase 2 trial into Turkey,” says Richard Muruve, CEO of Arch Biopartners. Turkey’s infection rates recently rose from an average of approximately 900 daily cases in July to more than 2,000 daily cases in late October. The company is also exploring the possibility of adding a Canadian clinical site to its trial.


Instead of taking a traditional vaccine approach, DPXCOVID-19 blends vaccine and immunotherapy science to generate an immune response that targets specific weaknesses of the coronavirus, incorporating several unique key features with the goal to optimize potential safety and efficacy. “Vaccination is our best hope for ending the current pandemic,” says Frederic Ors, CEO of IMV Inc. “Based on our preclinical results and rapid development, we believe that both our vaccine and manufacturing approaches have the potential to be transformational for COVID-19, and we appreciate the governments’ support and confidence in our progress.” More recently, in consultation with Health Canada, IMV decided to combine its original Phase 1 and 2 studies into a single trial with the potential to accelerate the clinical development and the timeline of the overall project. The Phase 1/2 trial is expected to be initiated before the end of 2020 after the completion of the preclinical safety, GLP toxicology and challenge studies that are required to advance into Phase 1/2 studies. These preclinical studies have been ongoing since mid-August, and results will likely be published in a peerreviewed scientific journal near the end of the year. To increase its current manufacturing capacity, IMV has entered a collaboration with a global manufacturing partner and initiated transfer and scale-up activities of DPXCOVID-19. This collaboration has the potential to bring two additional production sites in India and Europe with capacity to produce several hundred million doses of DPX-COVID-19.

To increase its current manufacturing capacity, IMV has entered a collaboration with a global manufacturing partner and initiated transfer and scaleup activities of DPX-COVID-19.



Canadian Coalition for COVID-19 The Canadian Coalition for Covid-19 is a collaboration between several Canadian biotech companies that are working together in the hopes that fragments of antibodies raised and sequenced from the blood of a llama immunized to COVID-19 might serve as the tool that will ultimately help treat the virus. At the conclusion of several months of research, the Coalition (founded by Cedarlane, Natural Products Canada, Novobind Livestock Therapeutics Inc., SignalChem Lifesciences Corporation and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati) published the genetic sequences of 51 fragments, or nanobodies, from a llama named Maple. Maple was immunized for the project and was given a viral antigen, or COVID-19 spike RBD protein, and responded by creating antibodies against the virus. A team of scientists then took a small sample of blood from Maple in order to retrieve the antibodies, which showed a promising ability to bind to the virus and neutralize it. Because the mandate of the Coalition is to “eliminate the barriers to blockbuster nanobodies and drive the development of scientific data, accurate diagnostics, and efficacious therapeutics through cost-free licenses to all those that want to be part of the global movement,” they are providing scientists and researchers around the world with the free data in order to stimulate further development of treatments and tests for the coronavirus. “We are working hard at securing pledgees to utilize our nanobody sequences in a multitude of applications,” says Hamlet Abnousi, co-founder and CEO of NovoBind Livestock Therapeutics Inc. “We look forward to growing the list of pledgees comprising of the whole supply chain required to bring a therapeutic or diagnostic to market.” BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 5, I S S U E 3 • 2 0 2 0


Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) COVID-19 Biorepository Work being conducted by researchers across the country in efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 recently received considerable support from Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL). In June, APL announced the launch of its COVID-19 Biorepository, which makes samples from the province’s COVID-19 patients accessible to researchers. The joint venture between APL, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services is meant to support the development of better diagnostics tools and the search for better treatments of the virus. Michael Mengel, chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Alberta and North Sector medical director for APL, describes the Biorepository as the result of a “true pan-provincial, panuniversity, pan-healthcare system, pan-foundation effort.” And it’s also one that he says is aiding researchers in their bid to find “better diagnostics, faster diagnostics, new treatment options,” to help in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In collaboration with Eli Lilly and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center (VRC), AbCellera brought the first COVID-19 antibody to clinical trials in less than 90 days, a process that typically requires several years. AbCellera In collaboration with Eli Lilly and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center (VRC), AbCellera brought the first COVID-19 antibody to clinical trials in less than 90 days, a process that typically requires several years. The human antibody, LY-CoV555, already has progressed to Phase 3 clinical trials, and this year the Government of Canada committed up to $175.6 million (via the Strategic Innovation Fund) to assist the company with additional research and building manufacturing infrastructure for antibody therapies against future pandemic threats. LY-CoV555 is a potent, neutralizing IgG1 monoclonal antibody that has been designed to obstruct viral attachment and prevent entry into human cells. It was the first of its kind to enter human clinical trials, with Phase 2 clinical trials launched in mid-June. Phase 3 of the trial will leverage customized mobile research units to study participants at long-term care facilities across the U.S. “In a very short time, AbCellera has generated massive amounts of information about how the human immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2,” says Ester Falconer, Ph.D., head of research and development at AbCellera. “Beyond the unique antibodies we’ve identified against the virus, we have data on thousands of related antibodies from the immune repertoires of multiple COVID-19 patient samples. These data sets will continue to inform treatment solutions to combat COVID-19.” VIDO-InterVac, University of Saskatchewan Featured as the Lab Profile in the Spring 2020 issue of BioLab Business, the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) was the first lab in Canada to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Since receiving $23 million from the federal government this spring to support its COVID-19 research, the organization is now working with other Canadian universities to develop a vaccine, with human trials anticipated to begin this fall. New partners of the internationally recognized facility include infectious disease


PredictMedix This Toronto-based artificial intelligence firm has developed and recently deployed safe entry modules that are equipped to screen people for several COVID-related symptoms. The modules, which look similar in aesthetics to traditional metal detectors, use a combination of infrared, thermal and visual spectrum imaging in concert with trained algorithms to detect the numerous COVID-19 symptoms that could be present in an individual. The modules utilize PredictMedix’s vast amount of deep learning in order to correlate an individual’s skin temperature with their core temperature, something that Dr. Rahul Kushwah, co-founder and COO of the company, points out as a critical component that is necessary in properly recognizing symptoms of COVID-19. “In addition to elevated temperature, our technology has been designed to detect several symptoms that have an association with COVID-19, including changes in an individual’s breathing rate, the presence of pink-eye and coughing,” Kushwah explains. In partnership with Juiceworks Exhibits, PredictMedix has deployed its COVID-19 symptom mass screening technology at several international events and locations, including a

24-hour retail pharmacy in Montreal. The company plans to release more information about the results of these deployments in the near future. University of New Brunswick (UNB) Researchers at UNB are on the verge of developing a coronavirus testing kit that it says offers a faster way to accurately and effectively diagnose those infected with the virus. The portable point-of-care devices, developed for use by clinicians, are diagnostics tests that address the difficult challenges, collective concerns and grim consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Essentially, the test would be similar to a glucose sensor for diabetics,” explains Connor Flynn, research scientist at UNB. “It’s a little electrode that would be disposable, that you insert into an analyzer and then that could return a result.” The aim for researchers and scientists involved in the project is to develop a test that will, within minutes, detect the virus. If this can be achieved, testing capacity can be increased and emergency department wait times at hospitals will be slashed. Vice-president of research at UNB, David MaGee says the researchers “want to join this global fight to try and harness this virus,” and remains hopeful that UNB will have a functional prototype soon. VBI Vaccines Inc. At the end of August, VBI Vaccines Inc. announced data from three preclinical coronavirus studies, as well as the selection of two clinical candidates, each with the potential of proving to be one-dose vaccines. With research operations in Ottawa, the American-based commercial-stage biopharmaceutical company will be entering its VBI-2901 and VBI-2902 into human trials as potential vaccines for COVID-19 by the end of the year. As part of the preclinical studies, convalescent sera from 20 individuals who had contracted and recovered from COVID-19 were collected for comparison with the objective to evaluate antibody binding titers and neutralizing antibody titers across a number of vaccine constructs. Based on the data seen to date, the company believes the VBI-2900 program has the potential to be administered as a one-dose vaccine regimen at human doses ranging from 2-5mcg. It also has confidence in the potential for VBI-2901 to offer increased breadth of reactivity across a broader range of coronaviruses. “We are excited to announce these impressive pre-clinical data, which we believe clearly support the advancement of the two vaccine candidates, VBI-2901 and VBI-2902, into human


experts from Dalhousie University and the University of Manitoba, who will work with VIDO-InterVac on one-year secondments in a collaborative effort to advance research and development of a vaccine to be used against COVID-19. “VIDO-InterVac is the centre of pandemic research in Canada,” says VIDO-InterVac director and CEO Dr. Volker Gerdts. “We are privileged to host these Canadian experts to advance scientific knowledge and develop solutions as the world battles this pandemic.”



clinical studies around the end of the year,” said Jeff Baxter, VBI Vaccine’s Inc. president and CEO. “An effective solution to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will require a vaccine that is capable of providing robust protection, quickly. We are very encouraged by these results and remain deeply committed to addressing this devastating public health crisis.” Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Major Science Initiative Fund Among thousands of projects that the program has financed, CFI funding provided $11.3 million to VIDO-InterVac as part of its plan to ensure the country’s large, national research facilities continue to receive the support required to operate optimally and remain at the fore of global research. University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff says that the major federal investment will “prove critical to Canada’s continued role at the cutting edge of global research and innovation,” and that the government’s commitment enables the University and its research facilities to address some of the biggest global challenges, including infectious diseases like the coronavirus.

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Medicago Inc. Plant-based technology is being leveraged by this Quebecbased biopharmaceutical company, in an effort to produce an experimental plant-based vaccine for the coronavirus. The company has made considerable progress, with Phase 2 trials beginning in early November, and Phase 3 trials starting in December. Medicago also recently reached an agreement with the Government of Canada to supply up to 76 million doses of its vaccine against COVID-19, while receiving $173 million in funding for additional research and development. The research and development program is also funded by minority shareholder Philip Morris International, and involves the use of a virus-like particle grown in Nicotiana Benthamiana, a close relative of the tobacco plant. Because the company uses living plants as bioreactors, it’s able to produce non-infectious versions of viruses, or VLPs, that mimic the architecture of a virus. Medicago successfully produced a VLP of COVID-19 in early spring, just 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2. Algernon Pharmaceuticals This Vancouver-based clinical stage pharmaceutical development company announced at the beginning of September that its multinational Phase2b/3 human study of Ifenprodil for the treatment of COVID-19 received its 50th patient enrollee. Ifenprodil was originally developed in the 1970s by Sanofi for the treatment of neurological conditions like vertigo and dizziness; however, Algernon may be on the verge of unlocking

its true potential as a treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, to help support lung function by reducing acute lung injury and inflammation. “Just looking at the results of the research, it’s astonishing,” stated Mark Williams, Algernon Pharmaceutical’s medical director. “Our drug might have a good chance at modulating the disease and hopefully reducing much of the damage that can occur in the lungs.” The trial began as a Phase 2b study of an aggregate of 150 patients; the company recently announced the continuation of Phase 2b/3 human studies.

“Just looking at the results of the research, it’s astonishing. Our drug might have a good chance at modulating the disease and hopefully reducing much of the damage that can occur in the lungs.” – Mark Williams, Algernon Pharmaceutical’s medical director Category 5 A company known primarily for its work producing print and install projects for its clients, Category 5 has quickly grown during the COVID-19 pandemic to become a full-service manufacturer, integrator and installer of Health Canada– certified thermal cameras and personal protective equipment. The cameras are capable of scanning up to 30 people at a time at a distance of 9 metres, and use a combination of infrared technology and artificial intelligence to read the body temperature of individuals scanned in an effort to help identify those who might be infected with the virus. To do this, the cameras identify the human face, triangulating focus on the forehead to receive the temperature information, which is generated in less than two seconds, with accuracy within half a degree Celsius. If the camera detects an abnormal temperature, an automatic notification can be sent to those designated to receive such alerts. “Our technology can be a powerful tool in helping the Canadian workforce and general public feel safe and comfortable reintegrating,” explains Mary Barroll, senior vice president of communications at CIEL Capital, a private equity firm that’s invested in and partnered with Category 5. Spartan Bioscience Inc. This leading Ottawa-based biotechnology company recently received Investigational Testing Authorization from Health


COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force In spring, the Government of Canada announced the formation of the country’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. Comprised of 18 members from across the country, the Task Force is charged with providing advice to the Federal Government on all issues related to the development and purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, among other things. Drawing on the expertise and experience of its sciencebased leaders in vaccinology and immunology, and supported by a secretariat housed at the National Research Council of Canada, the Task Force counsels the Canadian Government on prioritizing vaccine projects seeking support for activities in Canada; attracting promising non-Canadian vaccine candidates, or partnering with developers of non-Canadian vaccine candidates; optimizing the tools needed to develop vaccines; supporting effective research and development, and supply chain coordination for COVID-19 vaccine projects; facilitating solutions to manufacture the most promising COVID-19 vaccines in Canada; and, identifying opportunities to enhance business connectivity globally to secure access to vaccines with key commercial sponsors. The COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force will remain active for a minimum of 12 months and is subject to extension at the discretion of the Federal Government. For a list of Task Force members, visit:

Structura Biotechnology As scientists and researchers around the world fearlessly pursue the development of vaccines and treatments to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one Toronto-based software company is proving instrumental in helping those involved better understand viral mechanisms and approaches to vaccine development. Through the use of machine learning algorithms, Structura Biotechnology’s cryoSPARC software was used to solve the first-ever cryo-EM structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, enabling scientists and researchers to hone in on specific compositions and proteins of disease. “CryoSPARC’s specialized algorithms for cryo-electron microscopy image processing enabled researchers to see the spike protein’s movement dynamics,” explains Saara Virani, COO of Structura Biotechnology. “And it has been used by many industry and academic groups to investigate neutralizing antibodies, small molecule drugs and other possible therapeutics against the virus.” There is no question that these are strange times. In its rapid spread from community to community and country to country, COVID-19 has managed to deliver a lesson in humility, and a reminder of just how fragile life is on our planet. It’s tested our resolve, both as individuals and as parts of a greater collective within the neighbourhoods where we interact. Through the strength and perseverance of scientists and researchers, however, there is hope in the form of innovation and creativity. Thanks to the scientific community’s unrelenting pursuit of treatments and vaccines, the impacts of COVID-19 will someday subside. Until then, the fight to find a cure continues.


Canada for its COVID-19 test. Its first shipment of handheld devices and COVID-19 testing kits were due to arrive at healthcare facilities in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan earlier this year; however, in the weeks that followed, provincial purchases of the testing kits were put on hold as Health Canada restricted the device to research use only after problems were cited concerning the kits. Spartan Bioscience Inc. says that the delay allowed it to incorporate the latest information concerning COVID-19 that involved 12 weeks of intense work, during which time the company tested approximately 10,000 samples as part of its solution to the problem. The innovative handheld device was designed for rapid-testing, and can confirm test results for the virus in as little as 30 minutes.

COVID-Net Developed by Darwin AI in collaboration with Linda Wang and Alexander Wong at the University of Waterloo, COVID-Net is a convolutional neural network, a type of artificial intelligence that is adept at image recognition, which has been trained to identify signs of COVID-19 in chest X-rays. Research was conducted, testing the efficiency and accuracy of COVID-Net, using 5,941 images taken from 2,839 patients suffering from various lung conditions, including bacterial infections, viral infections and COVID-19. COVID-Net X-ray images have been made open source, available to the general public, in the hopes of benefitting other scientists and researchers in their quest to find effective screening technologies that will help to properly diagnose the virus in patients. In addition, the AI used in COVID-Net has been trained to enable a generation of predictions based on results, allowing it to gain deeper insights into critical factors associated with COVID-19 cases to help improve further screening.




gut S O LV I N G T H E


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At this very moment, squiggling and squirming inside your gut are millions upon millions of tiny strands of bacteria that scientists believe may hold the key to understanding inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and human health.

s a trailblazer in this unchartered territory, Dr. Carolina Tropini is helping unravel the mysterious world of bacterial communities in the intestines, leading her research team in a bid to seek a treatment, if not a cure, for IBD. A biophysicist and Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia, Tropini won this year’s Johnson & Johnson Women in Science, Technology, Math, Manufacturing and Design Scholars Award in the field of engineering, a prize that includes a grant of US$150,000 and mentorship support for the next three years. Six winners were selected from 541 nominees worldwide. As a member of a small but growing number of pioneering women of science, Tropini is the first Canadian to be honoured with the award since its launch in 2017. A delicately balanced ecosystem IBD afflicts 270,000 Canadians – a number that’s expected to rise to 400,000 (about one percent of the population) by 2030 – and costs the healthcare system over $1.2 billion annually. Dr. Tropini notes, “There's this very interesting interplay between our lifestyle, the bacteria that we have in us, and our health.” Microbes in different parts of the bowel survive in delicately balanced ecosystems that can be disrupted severely by certain food and medicine, and other ailments like intestinal flu or colon cancer. These tiny critters live off nutrients passed through the bowel and in return, produce compounds that aid in digestion and guard against dangerous pathogens. Tropini believes there is even more to the story. Her research team is studying the connection between the gut microbiota, the gut microenvironment and IBD. “Our goal is to further biological knowledge and to facilitate the development of methods that can predict disease state and drug effectiveness, as well as therapies for diseases that affect millions of people in the world,” Tropini explains. Keeping gut microbes healthy protects against pathogens and prevents inflammation, but Tropini suggests current lifestyles are turning out to be detrimental to the microbiota. “Some of the things that have changed in our lifestyle is that not only do we have as much nutritional food for these bacteria, because we eat very processed foods, but we’re also

losing them because we’re taking compounds like antibiotics and over-the-counter drugs that change the environment of the gut so strongly that we’re starting to lose a lot of these beneficial microbes,” she explains. “We’re really interested in understanding how changes in our gut environment affect the way that bacteria and viruses can survive.” She points out that viruses like COVID-19 are found in the digestive tract and that many patients show gastrointestinal symptoms even before they show the respiratory symptoms associated with the pandemic.





“I think that the impact of COVID-19 is going to be really important for a lot of different aspects of research. And one of the things that we know that's related to the microbiota is that it’s very strongly affected by viruses attacking the gastrointestinal tract.”

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Not without its challenges “We are also trying to modify the microbial communities,” Tropini continues, “so that they will act in the way that we want. We’re looking from the perspective of dietary compounds. We think that by feeding the bacteria different compounds, we can help ameliorate this environment, so that it’s more able to support the growth and stability of bacteria that we think are beneficial.” Working mostly with mouse intestines, the study of biopsies is not without its challenges, especially given the finicky nature of the mucus lining of the intestines, which harbours microbial communities. Live tissue from mouse intestines can be mounted in perfusion chambers or as colonic explants, but buffers and hydrating reagents must be applied very carefully to retain the natural thickness of the mucus. With electron microscopes, this was impossible because processing changed the mucus viscosity, and ultimately the ecosystem balance, that was seen through the device so it became scientifically irrelevant. Grappling with these complexities, Dr. Tropini and her team rely on an arsenal of cutting-edge experimental and computational methods, using technologies often engineered internally with support from other university departments.

With the help of the three-year grant from the award, Dr. Tropini and her team hope to begin in vitro experiments that will shed light on which bacteria are creating environments that may lead to inflammation, and which may be preventing it.

“These are massive projects with a lot of different facets, so we work in very large, interdisciplinary teams,” she explains. “It requires interdisciplinary research, and I've been really lucky through my training to have been exposed to a lot of different types of techniques that come from very different fields like physics, all the way to microbiology, all the way to bioengineering.” This includes using machine learning to integrate massive and diverse data sets to create predictive models and simulations. “For example, we will look at how a bacterium will respond to a change in the physical environment, or with the addition of a specific nutrient. And then we want to try to scale that understanding up to how it affects the


health of the host.” Tropini explains that measuring the host’s immunological response is altogether different because it looks at how different cells change or whether the mucus layer is being affected.

Down the road, Tropini’s team hopes to collaborate on novel therapies for IBD. She believes that science will get to a point in which understanding someone’s unique microbiota will lead to improved treatment and better health outcomes.


Making science better With the help of the three-year grant from the award, Dr. Tropini and her team hope to begin in vitro experiments that will shed light on which bacteria are creating environments that may lead to inflammation, and which may be preventing it. “Over the three years, we’re really trying to move into a position so we understand the system well enough that we can start to scale it up, and try to see whether we can move into something that will be more translational,” she says. Down the road, Tropini’s team hopes to collaborate on novel therapies for IBD. She believes that science will get to a point in which understanding someone’s unique microbiota will lead to improved treatment and better health outcomes. “Where I see this going is personalized medicine – a lot of these diseases are incredibly different from person to person. By understanding this diversity, I hope that we’ll be able to target each person individually, and devise effective individual treatments.” For now, Dr. Tropini is grateful for receiving the award, which she says opens up doors for women. She concludes, “There really needs to be more diversity, and there needs to be more inclusion, and there needs to be more voices to be heard, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes science better.”



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» The science of food and beverage ISSUE 3 • 2020

Food Insecurity

How an organic beef jerky company thrived in difficult times


Editor’s Note I’ll never forget an after-work event, when a casual conversation somehow landed on the welfare system in Canada, to which one woman proclaimed: “With Canada’s social supports, nobody in this country has an excuse to be hungry – they have plenty of help!” I didn’t share the story of a pregnant woman who visited a Manitoba social assistance office for milk vouchers, only to be turned away with nothing. That was me, more than 15 years (a lifetime) ago. Popi Bowman This year, many of those who were already experiencing food insecurity were plunged into more MANAGING EDITOR treacherous conditions. We can’t underestimate the importance of efforts such as food banks and food industry donations that have worked to feed those in need. In this issue, we’ve featured some of the organizations that are answering the call to help hungry Canadians. We’re also celebrating some Canadian businesses that are growing despite times of economic contraction. As we (gladly) say goodbye to 2020, Canadian Food Business will continue putting our country’s success stories – and struggles – in the spotlight. We hope you’ll join us in 2021!

Canadian group recognized for taking action on food security



This year’s recipients of the 2020 Innovation Awards presented by Guelph University’s Arrell Food Institute were selected for their work in building community capacity through food, each walking away with $100,000. The three winning groups included Community Food Centres Canada and U.S.-based Appetite for Change, winners of the community engagement category, with Ohio University’s Dr. Rattan Lal receiving the research category. “In a disruptive year, community organizations and innovative researchers have become more vital than ever in not just answering people’s immediate food needs, but using their insights to advocate for a system that will better serve everyone,” says Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute. Community Food Centres Canada uses meals as a catalyst for greater change in the food system. Through 13 centres across Canada, they provide access to healthy meals, but the spaces are also used to teach food skills as well as provide culturally appropriate and safe respite for community members. Their affordable produce markets help more people access nutritious food. The organization uses its platform to generate awareness and encourage action around food security, through events like the Big Social taking place online this year. “Eight years ago, we began developing Community Food Centres that use food as a tool to build health and belonging

in low-income communities,” explains CEO Nick Saul. “We now work with hundreds of partners across the country to advocate for the right to food and progressive public policy, so that everyone has a dignified seat at the table. With this award, we’ll support BIPOC-led partner organizations to offer empowering programs that bring people together around food.” He adds, “We are honoured to be recognized by the Arrell Food Institute alongside inspiring leaders such as Appetite for Change and Dr. Rattan Lal.” Appetite for Change makes a difference in North Minneapolis, using food as a vehicle for building health and social justice in the community. The organization operates urban farm plots, workshops developing food skills, youth training and facilitates networking for activists. Appetite for Change uniquely focuses on helping community members generate wealth, and one of the ways they do this is by providing certified kitchen space for local food entrepreneurs to develop products. Dr. Rattan Lal is a world-leading soil scientist whose body of published work, generated over a 50-year career, is used by students around the world. Dr. Rattan is currently a Distinguished University Professor at Ohio State University. His awardwinning research focused on a soil-centric approach to agriculture sustainability and prosperity in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation.


Global telecommunications giant Telus has set its sights on connecting the world’s food chain. The company recently launched a new business unit, Telus Agriculture, to digitize the entire food value chain, linking technologies together for the first time and using advanced data systems and artificial intelligence to streamline operations and improve traceability. Darren Entwistle, president and CEO of Telus, says, “By means of our technology innovation, we will help farmers and ranchers produce food for the world’s ever-expanding population more efficiently, safely and in a more environmentally friendly manner.” The company’s efforts will focus on a secure exchange of information that allows farmers and ranchers, agri-business organizations, the agri-food industry, food retailers and consumers to make smarter decisions. A team of international experts has been assembled by the company to connect and build relationships with participants in the agriculture value chain, from seed manufacturers and farmers through to grocery stores and restaurants. To build scale and bench strength, Telus Agriculture has acquired several companies in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., including: B.C.’s Farm At Hand, a farm management software; Decisive Farming, a precision agronomy and farm management tech company based in Alberta; and, Alberta-based Feedlot Health Management Solutions. As part of Telus Agriculture, Farm At Hand’s simple approach to accessing key information will expand to include integrations with other leading-edge software and IoT devices, keeping track of everything in one central platform. With the customer support and solutions from Decisive Farming, farmers are empowered with accessible, safe and secure connectivity, data management and farm analytics. Feedlot Health Management Solutions is North America’s leading feedlot consulting service, working with feedlots and calf grower operations to optimize production efficiency and overall animal health. They join U.S.-based AFS Technologies, Agrian, AgIntegrated and TKXS, as well as Muddy Boots out of the U.K., along with the company’s partner, Hummingbird. With these acquisitions and partnerships, Telus Agriculture has amassed a billion acres of historical acre data and 170 million acres of real-time data across the most diverse crop markets in the world that can be leveraged to build industry-leading AI and machine learning-based insights.

Telus Agriculture currently supports more than 100 million acres of agricultural land, backed by a team of more than 1,200 experts across Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, the U.K., Slovakia, Armenia, Germany, China and Australia. “We are striving to provide innovative solutions to advance the agriculture sector on a worldwide basis, while positioning Canada as a preferred global supplier of safe, sustainable food,” concludes Entwistle.


Three projects will boost finance and insurance products for Canadian growers

Three new projects aiming to improve financial tools and insurance products for growers have received federal funding. The government’s AgriRisk Initiatives program has tagged $123,269 for the Canadian Horticultural Council for a risk assessment of Ontario’s horticulture sector in the development of a new insurance product. Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers received $225,000 to develop a risk management financial product for disease and insect infestations for greenhouses, and the Association des producteurs maraichers du Québec received $38,660 for a tool for growers to assess their vulnerability and increase their resilience to climate change.

Honey sold in Canada tested by food agency for fraud

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published its honey authenticity surveillance results which tested domestic and imported honey sold in Canada between April 2019 and March 2020. Under Canadian law, honey cannot contain added sugars if sold as authentic honey. Testing found 87 percent of the targeted honey samples were authentic, compared to 78 percent the previous fiscal year. In addition to the targeted sampling by the CFIA, samples also were collected by an independent third party as part of the agency’s marketplace monitoring activity, and CFIA testing showed 98 percent of those to be authentic.


of the targeted honey samples tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were authentic.


Communication company aims to digitally transform the global food system



New high-protein milk brand debuts Fairlife, a Chicago-based dairy beverage company owned by Coca Cola, recently introduced its premium, ultrafiltered milk to the Canadian market. Made by a local team in Peterborough, Ontario, the milk is fully supplied by Canadian dairy farmers. A patented cold-filtration process concentrates nutrients like protein, to about 50 percent more than other brands, while filtering out much of the natural sugars. The brand’s journey to become 100 percent Canadian began in 2018 with an $85 million investment for a new, state-of-art dairy facility in Peterborough, that’s fully operational and has created over 30 local jobs.

Trend report points to dramatic changes to food industry landscape



The global COVID-19 pandemic caused 10 years of change in 10 months, according to the authors of a newly released study, the 2021 Nourish Network Annual Trend Report for Food, Beverage, and Agriculture, which cites data from CCFI, Neilsen, Acosta, Ipsos, McKinsey Canada and a number of other resources. “Our fifth annual report dives into a dozen key trends that will shape the food industry landscape in 2021 and beyond,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing. According to the report, slightly more than half (51 percent) of Canadians, primarily in the hospitality, retail and construction industries – which saw heavy job losses – say they have less money to spend on food than they did before COVID-19. Family mealtime also has made a comeback, with more people cooking at home during the pandemic. Cooking fatigue is emerging, however, as is the craving for new experiences. This has fuelled greater interest in meal kits and restaurantbranded products, as a convenient way to get the restaurant experience at home. Awareness of social justice in Canada’s food supply – like wages, workers’ rights and living conditions for migrant workers – have taken centre stage in the media, helping drive consumer behaviour toward values-based eating. Related to food social justice, consumers want to know how their groceries were produced, such as the treatment of farm workers, and if animal and environmental welfare were considered. Interest in food with a reduced environmental impact has led companies to take a serious look at “regenerative agriculture,” which embraces soil health, above-ground diversity and economic resilience for farmers. There’s a rise in food nationalism, with a recent study showing that four in five Canadians are willing to pay extra for locally grown produce, and six in 10 Canadians say they trust

food produced here more than from elsewhere. The report also suggests that a growing number of consumers want food and beverages that support physical, mental and emotional health. The COVID-19 lockdown kicked off an unplanned and unprecedented trial for online grocery; half of all Canadian households with internet access used it during the first six months of the pandemic. While online grocery purchases remain high, they are growing less frequent. According to the report, the agricultural industry has become more receptive to government, especially in support of employment opportunities and in response to global challenges like the pandemic and trade wars with China and the U.S. Other trends suggest greater investment in soil health and accelerated integration of digital technology.

Family mealtime also has made a comeback, with more people cooking at home during the pandemic. Cooking fatigue is emerging, however, as is the craving for new experiences.


COVID-19 has presented significant challenges to communities across Canada, and particularly for Canadians facing food insecurity. Study after study reveals that food banks are being hit hard with a surge in demand among food banks that were already stretched to capacity with 1.1 million visits per month across Canada before the pandemic. A recent study by Food Banks Canada shows that larger urban areas were more likely to see increased demand due to COVID-19 related job losses. The report, Food Banks and COVID-19 – A National Snapshot, surveyed nearly 1,000 food banks across Canada and found that government supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and increases to the Canada Child Benefit helped manage demand but as the pandemic lingered, that changed. “Despite new social policy initiatives, many food banks were left struggling with increased client need, especially in larger urban centres, at the same time as having to adapt operations to comply with fast-changing regulations,” explained Kirstin Beardsley, chief network services officer at Food Banks Canada. “Our biggest concern now is what will happen as we see more job losses in at-risk industries. These cities could be facing a ticking time bomb.” Prior to the pandemic, food banks already reported the high cost of housing as one of the main reasons why people needed assistance. In 2019, 70 percent of all food bank clients lived in rental housing with fewer household assets to help buffer against sudden economic shocks, like job loss. In each province before the pandemic, the lowest income group was paying well over 50 percent of their income for the cost of rent and utilities, leaving little for other basic needs such as food. A study by Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto found that the percentage of food bank clients facing deep housing unaffordability rose from 67 percent to 81 percent during the pandemic. Additionally, a recent report released by Feed Ontario found that one in two food bank clients are worried about facing eviction or defaulting on their mortgage in the next two to six months. “Food banks are still grappling with the aftermath of the 2008–09 recession. Now, with the massive increase in food bank use during COVID-19, we are deeply concerned that we will be facing another decade of heightened food insecurity,” says Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank. “The trends we were seeing before the pandemic – the high cost of housing, precarious employment and insufficient income supports – are what have made our communities most vulnerable to the impacts of this virus.”

Craft beer awards go global The 2021 Craft Beer Marketing Awards have gone global this year, becoming the first international awards program to focus on retail beer marketing. Canada has over 1,025 craft breweries offering 8,517 beers, many made with homegrown ingredients; for comparison, the U.S. has over 7,450 craft breweries nationwide. Two special categories reflecting recent events have been added to the awards this year: “Pandemic marketing” and “human rights” have been added to the list of over 30 categories to honour the industry’s best brands. Entries close January 29; information can be found at

Plant-based chicken earns top spot

Sol Cuisine, a Canadian manufacturer of plant-based food products, earned the top spot for its plant-based Crispy Chik’n Bites in a recently published report by industry experts listing the “100 Best Vegan Products of All Time.” The chickenstyle bites also ranked top 10 in the entire meatless category and top 30 in the whole plant-based category including all foods, beverages and other alternatives. CEO John Flanagan remarked, “It’s hard to believe it’s not chicken! On top of the incredible taste, this product is also Kosher, non-GMO certified and comes with a deliciously paired BBQ sauce pack in every bag.” C A N A D I A N F O O D B U S I N E S S.C O M

Food banks sound alarm as demand surges during pandemic


Creating a sustainable food future. Introducing TELUS Agriculture. The UN estimates that farmers will have to produce 70% more food by 2050¹ to meet the needs of the world’s expected 10-billion population. To do this sustainably, we’re launching TELUS Agriculture—the next step in our commitment to using technology for good that will produce food more safely and efficiently, while lowering emissions.

Learn how we’re creating better food outcomes at ¹ United Nations – December 2, 2013 - World must sustainably produce 70 per cent more food by mid-century,


Facing the Facts:

Food Insecurity in the Spotlight


insecurity has long been a significant problem in Canada, with research showing that a growing number of Canadians were struggling to afford nutritious food even before the pandemic left millions without reliable sources of income. “We knew before the pandemic that we had a large problem, and that problem had been festering,” says Valerie Tarasuk, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and the principal investigator of the PROOF food insecurity research program. Research by PROOF indicates that one in eight Canadians reported experiencing food security prior to the pandemic. “What’s happened since the pandemic for some people is that their economic circumstances have gotten a whole lot worse,” says Tarasuk. “I think COVID has put a gun to our head to say we’ve got to get this figured out.”


By Jessica Huras





Daily Bread Food Bank has seen a 200 percent increase in new clients since March, according to CEO Neil Hetherington. In April 2020, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $100 million to help food banks meet this surge in demand and support Canadians facing financial uncertainty amid the pandemic. Food banks have grappled with feeding a growing number of Canadians, while simultaneously adapting to the new health and safety challenges of operating amid the pandemic. Hetherington says that 30 percent of Daily Bread’s food bank locations were forced to close down. “Our distribution points were cut off,” he explains. “It’s not like a supermarket where the employees arrive for work every day. You’re talking about a food distribution network that exists in community centres, which closed down or were run by volunteers who themselves were in a vulnerable group and couldn’t continue.” According to Hetherington, racialized and low-income Canadians are statistically more likely to access food banks and are also in a higher risk group for contracting COVID-19. This means populations that were most vulnerable to start with have been most significantly impacted by health risks and food insecurity amid the pandemic. In Manitoba, a curbside meal pick-up program has offered one possible solution for helping those in need access healthy food, while also protecting their safety by complying with physical distancing recommendations. Everyone Eats, a partnership between Brandon University Food Services, the Brandon Food Council, the John Howard Society and Assiniboine Community College, allows clients to place meal orders online based on a pay-what-you-can donation model. “It’s a different way of getting food to people that’s safe and respects physical distancing, but also gives people choice and agency in the type of foods that they can eat,” says Rob Moquin, executive director of Food Matters Manitoba. The initiative also helps to reduce some of the social stigma associated with food charity, with clients making a confidential donation that can range from $0 to $100 for their meal. “If somebody is not paying anything for that food, nobody else ever knows,” says Moquin. In Toronto, Feed It Forward’s grocery store also operates based on a pay-what-you-can model. The store is stocked with everything from fresh produce to pantry staples like flour and pet food, most of which is rescued from traditional grocery

stores, restaurants and food terminals. Feed It Forward runs a number of other initiatives, including a mobile food truck and food hamper program, focused on saving unsold food and redistributing it to those in need. The government is also funding this model of cycling usable food that might have otherwise been wasted back to vulnerable Canadians. Building upon April’s $100 million pledge, in June a federal investment of $50 million to support a surplus food rescue program was announced. Second Harvest, Food Banks Canada and more than 100 food businesses and non-profit organizations have partnered with the initiative to reallocate excess eggs, potatoes, meat and other goods to Canadians facing food insecurity. In October, another $100 million was added to the Emergency Food Security Fund; the first portion of the funding provided approximately six million meals to those in need. The program allows producers who have food surpluses related to the shutdown of the restaurant and hospitality industries to minimize their losses while also supporting food banks in need of supplies. About 10 percent of goods are directed specifically to vulnerable communities in northern Canada. Some Canadian cities have funnelled resources into community gardens in an effort to offer residents better access to nutritious food. In Victoria, B.C., for example, the Get Growing Victoria initiative has seen over 50,000 free vegetable seedlings distributed through local community and non-profit organizations. Hetherington says that community gardens can have positive social benefits, but he doesn’t see them as having a measurable impact on Canada’s growing food insecurity problem. “They can help with social isolation, and community gardening can be done at a distance, which is great, but in terms of a solution to food insecurity, I don't see any data that would support that,” he says. Hetherington also points out that having free time to grow your own food is a luxury that vulnerable populations often

Some Canadian cities have funnelled resources into community gardens in an effort to offer residents better access to nutritious food. In Victoria, B.C., for example, the Get Growing Victoria initiative has seen over 50,000 free vegetable seedlings distributed through local community and non-profit organizations.


report, for example, which shows that CERB left many at-risk populations without the financial support they needed. “There were people who couldn’t get CERB either because they hadn’t worked enough, they couldn’t manage the application process, or they were working under the table,” says Tarasuk. “Whatever the issues were, they were in need of income and they didn’t have any, and that’s what the report is telling us. We’ve got a bunch of people who, for whatever reason, that system wasn’t good enough for.” Tarasuk adds that the widespread misbelief that food banks can solve food insecurity can undermine efforts to address the income issues that are the heart of the problem. “Nothing will compare to the difference we would make if we just simply gave those parents more money so that they could go to the store and buy food,” she says.

FACTS & STATS 14.6 percent of Canadians live in a

household where food insecurity has been a problem in the past 30 days, an increase from 10.5 percent two years ago. Daily Bread food banks are serving close to

20,000 individuals each week in the Toronto area, compared to approximately

15,000 in 2019, an increase of close to 25%. 32 percent of food bank clients surveyed by Daily Bread had at least one member of their household working before COVID-19 and

76 percent of these households reported job loss. 28 percent of respondents received CERB, but they were still unable to afford their basic needs.


children under 18 in Canada live in families struggling to afford food. Black households are

3.56 times more likely

to be food insecure than white households. Sources: Statistics Canada, Daily Bread Food Bank, University of Toronto,


don’t have. “If you think about a single parent, they barely have enough time to parent and work their job, so do they really have the time and resources to be able to participate in a community garden?” In spite of the hope offered by these government funding boosts and community initiatives, PROOF’s Tarasuk says that impactful improvements in food security can only happen when we start addressing the reasons why so many Canadians can’t afford food in the first place. “One thing that we have been documenting for years is the huge disconnect between food charity and food insecurity,” says Tarasuk. “By our best estimate, fewer than one in four food insecure households ever make their way into a food bank or a charitable food distribution organization. And we have absolutely no evidence that the receipt of food through those venues is sufficient to shift somebody into a food secure situation.” As both Tarasuk and Hetherington point out, food insecurity isn’t caused by a lack of access to healthy food; it’s caused by not having enough money to buy food. “The new clients that are arriving to us, 80 percent of them it’s because of job loss,” says Hetherington. Tarasuk says that although the new government funding directed to food banks is better than nothing, benefit programs like CERB and the Canada Child Benefit can have a more meaningful impact on long-term food security. “We did a study in the winter before COVID looking at the effects of the Canada Child Benefit, which was introduced in 2016, on food insecurity in Canada,” says Tarasuk. “We had the opportunity to look at the before and after of the Canada Child Benefit, and we could see that it was doing good – that it was mitigating severe food insecurity.” Ensuring all Canadians have the income needed to consistently buy healthy food for themselves means putting the needs of vulnerable communities at the forefront when developing government policy, says Tarasuk. She says that the rise in food insecurity outlined by the recent Statistics Canada





How Canadian jerky company Dick Duff’s made huge strides during COVID-19




pandemic has left many companies scrambling to find innovative ways to keep their businesses afloat, and the food industry is no exception. New ventures face an even greater challenge: establishing a customer base and increasing sales when the world is changing rapidly around them. The founders of Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky adapted their business amidst the pandemic to turn their focus online, and the results were impressive. The business was started in Parry Sound, Ont., by a local legend named Dick Duff who sold beef jerky within his community. After 25 years, Duff partnered with two brothers looking for a new business opportunity: Jonathan and Jeremy Anderson, who are Parry Sound locals and fans of Dick’s homemade jerky. After many innovations, the jerky was taken to the next level as a consumer product: Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky.

Being an e-commerce company wasn’t a priority in Dick Duff’s original sales plan, which primarily focused on in-store demonstrations, trade shows and retail, all options unavailable in the midst of a pandemic. Reaching new customers would be a challenge during the pandemic. “Sampling allows you to connect with consumers – have them try your product so there’s no risk of them purchasing the product and not liking it,” says Jeremy Anderson, co-founder and president. There are other options for getting samples to consumers, but they come with challenges. Sampling by mail is a contactless method for distributing free samples, but Dick Duff’s noted that it’s an expensive process that adds an extra step to the time between consumer trial and purchase. Trade shows were another part of Dick Duff’s business


development that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19. Since they could no longer be on the road, they went online. “We had a number of trade shows lined up, and you’re reaching tens of thousands of people in one weekend,” Jeremy explains. “Where else are you going to be able to reach that many people in a single weekend?” As challenges arose, they had to find a new way to reach consumers. The Andersons had a reputation to uphold and pushed through the pandemic to further Duff’s legacy, who is now 60 years of age. “We had to figure out how we were going to reach new consumers. Online was the obvious answer,” Jeremy continues. Online sales turned out to be a positive experience for Dick Duff’s, with the company selling 15 times more jerky virtually compared to the month before the pandemic restrictions started.

with microbrewery delivery service Brewer Eats. For most consumers, food is essential with any beer delivery. As it turns out, craft beer drinkers find organic jerky the perfect pairing. Setting up as an online retailer wasn’t easy at first, however, challenging the Andersons to learn the online and e-commerce space quickly. They faced a learning curve when it came to understanding what works and what doesn’t, especially when it came to navigating social media for the business. With concentrated efforts to build a following, their online presence grew substantially on major social networks. The hard work is paying off. Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky is now available online through a variety of retailers and in more than 250 brick-and-mortar stores. Each authentic and finely crafted flavour is inspired by the way Duff cooks in his kitchen. “Red Wine & Rosemary” is one of Duff’s delectable combos for his roast beef marinades, “Sweet Chipotle” comes from Duff’s spicy BBQ flavouring, and “Dijon Mustard” has always been Duff’s favourite topping on his roast beef sandwich. Unique in its lower sugar content and higher quality ingredients, the jerky will be available with additional flavour options to continue distinguishing itself from competitors. In keeping with Duff’s original methods from 1989, the product continues to be clean, sustainable and ethically sourced, using organic beef. The product also boasts no GMOs, pesticides, added hormones, antibiotics or preservatives; priced at less than $10 per bag.

Transitioning to online sales has offered the Andersons the opportunity to discover more about who their consumers are and where they live. Through e-commerce, they can sell coastto-coast and build a national presence. As the only certified organic jerky in all of Canada, developing a strong national presence was essential. The Andersons started with Amazon and immediately had tremendous success with the online retailer. Dick Duff’s is now one of the bestselling products in the jerky and dried meats category on They also saw gains by partnering with food delivery services and online grocers like Fresh City Farms and Well. ca, which grew in popularity due to the pandemic, and working with subscription box companies like Carnivore Club and The Balanced Snack Box, along with sampling companies like Sampler. Getting creative, the brothers also partnered


Through e-commerce, they can sell coastto-coast and build a national presence. As the only certified organic jerky in all of Canada, developing a strong national presence was essential.






the choice between fresh or canned foods, most consumers shy away from tinned options. It’s behaviour that’s being challenged by Scout, a new Canadian seafood brand, launched this September. Scout is on a mission to earn the trust of consumers with its line of ethically sourced tinned seafoods, featuring Atlantic Canadian lobster, P.E.I. mussels, Ontario trout and albacore tuna – and it’s doing so with heart. The new craft seafood cannery is the first to source all of its species in Canadian and U.S. waters, supports Indigenous communities and even takes a stand against human trafficking in the fishing industry. The timing couldn’t be better for launching Scout. A recent survey for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) says there is increasing demand for sustainably sourced seafood. Experts suggest that canned seafood is increasingly popular because it’s easy to prepare, ready to eat, has a long shelf life and offers health benefits. Scout is committed to protecting ocean health through its network of small-scale and sustainable North American fisheries and two canneries. The company employs a full crew of seven across Canada and the U.S., along with a team of parttime contractors. The rapidly growing venture is projecting $4 million in sales by the end of 2021. Canadian Food Business interviewed company CEO and cofounder Adam Bent. He’s an advocate for sustainable seafood practices and a founding member of Seafood Collab, an industry group of emerging brands committed to sustainable seafood.

What distinguishes Scout from other fish canneries?

Scout is the first to have a multi-species canned seafood brand all sourced from Canadian and U.S. waters. We are focused on biodiversity with our products, bringing under-loved species to consumers and breaking away from only offering the standard tuna and salmon in a can. Most products you find in store today are imported from overseas. We source directly from the fishery, and our products are hand cut and hand packed in Canada.

How do you ensure responsible fishing?

Scout sources both wild and farmed species. We are aligned with the MSC and only source species from MSC-certified fisheries in the U.S. and Canada. Our lobster product is from the lobster fishery in P.E.I. and our tuna is from a B.C. albacore fishery. We work directly with the fisherman, ensuring fair wages. As we grow, we will continue to source directly from the fishery; however, we make some purchasing decisions with responsible industry partners, like Organic Ocean, based in Vancouver, who worked with us to navigate our first large tuna purchase.

With so much emphasis on fresh foods, how are you rebuilding consumer trust in canned goods?

Scout’s mission is simple: We want to become the most trusted seafood brand in North America. Our products are both

and wanted to challenge the status quo and simply do things better. We’ve brought products to market that resonate with consumers and offer them the product values that were not being provided by commodity brands – values like trust and transparency, culinary enjoyment and our impact program.

Where do the recipes come from?

Sustainability doesn’t come second to taste; each recipe from our craft lineup has been developed by our co-founder and acclaimed chef, Charlotte Langley. From watching fishmongers unpack their daily catches in P.E.I. to perfecting her clam chowder, seafood has long been a part of Chef Charlotte Langley’s life. After working in Canada’s most creative seafood kitchens, she began to wonder how the home chef could enjoy more of it locally.

Why do you support Indigenous communities and Not For Sale?

How do your products reduce food waste?

There is a tremendous amount of food waste in fresh and frozen seafood, not to mention the energy requirement of cold chain from boat to shelf. In addition to our broader impact program, shifting consumer demand from fresh and frozen to incorporating preserved seafood helps reduce food waste.

What inspired you to pursue canning?

Looking at the current landscape of seafood consumer packaged goods and canning in general, the category is made up of antiquated brands who are disconnected from consumer values and ocean health. We saw a whitespace in the category

What sets you apart from bigger brands?

We combine the seafood industry’s heritage with Chef Charlotte’s own unique take to create a product straight from the heart. By using ethical products from those same fishing communities, we want to help restore the tradition of preserved seafood for North America. Our products are hand cut and hand packed, and our impact program is also a major differentiator. Commodity brands in the old retail world have started to borrow from the playbooks of emerging brands who are delivering on what engaged consumers want in their products; however, it’s not necessarily coming from an authentic place but more as a function of marketing. In the end, if we can inspire bigger brands to do better, then we are helping improve the industry as a whole.


responsibly and regionally sourced and culinary forward. Scout is a Certified B-Corp Pending – we are committed to meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. We are also a One Percent for the Planet member, meaning every sale re-invests into climate action projects. As an impact brand that connects what we do to climate action and culinary enjoyment, we are changing consumers’ relationship with preserved seafood. Preserving seafood offers a long shelf life and is equally delicious and nutritious as fresh and frozen seafood. To change the perspective of canned seafood as a lower quality commodity product, we are encouraging consumers to incorporate more preserved seafood as an ingredient – challenging the notion that fresh or frozen seafood is superior.

Our impact program is focused on intersectional environmentalism, meaning we are looking at opportunities that benefit both people and planet. Our program is evolving to support First Nations lead environmental projects in the regions we source from, which we hope will evolve to include partnership opportunities on the business side as a form of economic collaboration and reconciliation. We are currently building that program that will launch next year. We have an established partner with Not For Sale, a human rights and environmental organization with the mandate to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery, two issues that are rampant in the global seafood industry. We are supporting Not For Sale as an international component to our impact program and will broaden our program to include our regional focus and our collaboration with First Nations communities.



NEW ECO-FRIENDLY PALLET STRETCH WRAP A preference for eco-friendly, bioplastic materials among food producers and supply chain providers has inspired Good Natured Products to introduce a pallet stretch wrap made from 51 percent plantbased flexible film. The products are derived from sugarcane and are chemically equivalent to conventional #4 LDPE to make the transition for businesses as seamless as possible. The company’s plant-based machine and hand pallet stretch wrap comes in a range of the most popular gauges for the North American market.



NEW STATE-OF-THE-ART APPLE AND PEAR PROCESSING Niagara Falls–based Key Technology has introduced its newest sorting system for fresh-cut apple and pear products that also handles various shapes and sizes with minimal changeover. This versatile solution integrates Key’s Iso-Flo shakers, rotary sizing and grading systems, belt conveyors and a VERYX digital sorter. Removing pieces of stem, seeds, calyx/flower and core, as well as foreign material and product defects like dark and light stains, rot and skin, this sorting line automates inspection to significantly improve overall product quality and increase yield, while reducing labour.

DIRECT STEAM-INJECTION FOOD PROCESSING SYSTEM Gold Peg’s RotaTherm is a unique single-stage continuous cooking system that can be used for the optimal cooking and processing of a wide variety of pumpable products, including processed cheese, sauces, purees, baby food, dips, pie fillers, taco meat, desserts, chicken stock, defatting, rendering and pet food. Able to operate continuously for up to 156 hours, the RotaTherm enables a precise level of control for a range of heating and processing settings such as cooking temperature, direct steam injection heating profile, shear, pressure, mixing and more.

RADAR SENSOR FOR CONTINUOUS LEVEL MEASUREMENT OF BULK SOLIDS With its high frequency of 80 GHz, the radar sensor VEGAPULS 69 can measure practically any kind of bulk solid material: Fine powders, ash, dried sewage sludge, cullet, granulates and coarse bulk solids – even in a dusty atmosphere. The radar sensor scores big with its wide measuring range and accuracy in large or small applications: in bunkers, containers, silos. Even internal installations have no effect on the measuring result. The non-contact radar sensor is ideal for use in diverse sectors, such as building materials, rocks, aggregates and cement, as well as for use in the chemical industry, in wastewater management and in recycling.



FIRST VACCINE In 1906, Toronto’s SickKids hospital began seeing an alarming number of infants and young children with intense, barking coughs – signs of the first-known pertussis (“whooping cough”) epidemic in Canada. By the following year, it had killed 214 children in Ontario, 141 of them under 12 months old. Highly contagious and endemic, even today the disease is the second most common infectious childhood disease in Canada, after influenza. In 1900, the team of Jules Bordet and Octave Gengou, at the Pasteur Institute in Brussels, had identified the Bordetella pertussis bacterium as the cause of the disease. Gengou went on to develop the first vaccine in 1912, and by 1914 it was being produced in several European and U.S. labs. The Ontario Provincial Laboratory and then Connaught Laboratories followed suit by 1919 with their pertussis vaccine, a Canadian first. By 1937, continued international research into the disease had inspired scientists at Connaught and SickKids to develop an even more effective vaccine. Vaccine production at Connaught improved in the 1940s with the application of a fluid culture medium in experiments and the application of larger-scale production methods. These same methods were used by researchers at Connaught in the production of the Salk polio vaccine, which debuted in 1955 and catapulted Canada forward as the first country to eliminate polio. Research initiatives over the 1940s and ’50s resulted in Connaught taking the global lead in a new generation of combined vaccines that included diptheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. In Canada, developing, testing and finally approving a vaccine can take up to a decade or more. Initial animal testing may run over several years, followed by three phases of clinical trials in successively larger groups of people, often with hundreds and thousands of participating volunteers by the third phase. When all phases of the clinical trials have been successfully completed, the vaccine must meet Canadian licensing standards before it can be considered for approval by Health Canada’s Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate. The directorate also supervises all aspects of vaccine production and quality control throughout the vaccine’s lifecycle, to ensure that it is safe and effective. Understanding the rigours of Canada’s vaccine approval process makes today’s rapid pace of developing a COVID-19 vaccine so much more impressive. Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical advisor at Health Canada, says that to speed the process up, Health Canada is trying to get the regulatory process done in tandem with the final trials. She underscores, “The ultimate length of the review depends on the data.”

“Each year in Canada, between 1,000 and 3,000 people fall ill from pertussis. Worldwide, there are about 20 to 40 million cases of, and 400,000 deaths from, pertussis each year.” – Health Canada


By Jana Manolakos



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