Genome Canada leads $40 million genomics initiative to address COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, April 23, 2020

New Canadian network will undertake viral and host genome sequencing to improve patient outcomes

Following an announcement in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Genome Canada launched today the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), a newly formed initiative backed by $40 million in federal funding. Led by Genome Canada, in partnership with the six regional Genome Centres, national and provincial public health labs, genome sequencing centres through CGEn, hospitals, universities and the private sector, CanCOGeN will coordinate and scale up existing genomics-based COVID-19 research in Canada and internationally in order to accelerate public impact. This initiative is part of a $1 billion package of measures announced by the Prime Minister today to support new countermeasures to fight the virus.

CanCOGeN will undertake two related genomics projects to help us understand how the virus works, how it is evolving, and why people experience such different health outcomes. CanCOGeN will sequence the genomes of up to 10,000 patients and 150,000 viral samples and will build a bank of “virus to patient” data that will inform decision-making by public health authorities and support the development of therapies and vaccines. Of critical importance, CanCOGeN will establish and manage a framework for cross-Canada safe data sharing, coordination and analysis.

Data will be shared with national and international collaborators to enable additional research, including Canadian vaccine development efforts. This will ultimately help respond to the current COVID-19 emergency as well as build capacity to respond and manage future outbreaks of this virus, or other pandemics. The initiative will be supported by an Advisory Committee to ensure strategic coordination with other Canadian and international COVID-19 health and medical research efforts.

“Genome Canada and the six regional Genome Centres are on a mission to meet the COVID-19 challenge head-on. We will do that by generating accessible and readily usable genomics data to inform public health decisions that impact Canadians,” said Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada. “A multi-pronged coordinated national approach to harnessing robust genomic solutions and convening partners across sectors and borders will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.”

Canada is a world leader in genomics-based research in the healthcare sector, contributing significantly to the responsible application of biosciences to advance human health. CanCOGeN is an open and collaborative initiative that will allow for the gathering of scientific data required in the short-term and for the development of tools needed in the long-term to better protect Canadians’ health in the face of similar outbreaks in the future.


“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working closely with Canada’s health experts and researchers, who are some of the most skilled and brightest in the world. We are making sure that Canada remains at the forefront of scientific research to help us make smart and effective decisions on the path to recovery.”

—The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians. We are all in this together: Canada is benefiting from the impressive and innovative power of Canadian researchers in our coordinated national approach to fight COVID-19. Together, we are rapidly scaling-up our research capacity to harness genomic sequencing data to inform public health interventions and to advance a vaccine against COVID-19 to protect our population and end the crisis.”

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry

“Genome Canada and the six regional Genome Centres are on a mission to meet the COVID-19 challenge head-on. We will do that by generating accessible and readily usable genomics data to inform public health decisions that impact Canadians. A multi-pronged coordinated national approach to harnessing robust genomic solutions and convening partners across sectors and borders will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.”

– Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO of Genome Canada

[Genome Canada, in partnership with the six regional Genome Centres, will lead the newly formed Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN).]

“This investment by the Government of Canada will harness the power of world class genomics infrastructure in Canada to explore the genetic architecture of the human genome and to inform our understanding of the variable clinical response to COVID-19, bringing us closer to enabling personalized risk prediction and precision therapeutic strategies.”

– Dr. Naveed Aziz, Chief Administrative & Chief Scientific Officer, CGEn

[CGEn will lead the COVID-19 host genome sequencing initiative, with support from Genome Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives and others, through its nodes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.]

“The national Viral Genome Sequencing Initiative within the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) is tremendously important in that we are significantly building out our sequencing capacity in real time to rapidly respond to this Canadian and global health crisis. With expertise coming in from researchers, sequencing centers, clinicians, health care facilities and industry across the country, we will be streamlining guidelines, protocols and data quality control towards building a robust Canadian genomics network that strengthens the Canadian response now and for future outbreaks.”

– Dr. Terrance Snutch, Professor, Michael Smith Laboratories and Director, Translational Neuroscience, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, University of British Columbia

[Dr. Snutch and his team at UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories will lead the COVID-19 genome sequencing component of the viral genomics initiative and coordinate with leaders and sequencing sites in each province.]

“The Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory welcomes the opportunity that the CanCOGen presents to coordinate large-scale SARS-CoV-2 sequencing efforts, facilitate genomic capacity building more regionally, promote best practices for data management and analysis, and disseminate data, sequencing results, and research outcomes to partners and stakeholders. Studying the genome of the virus and collectively developing tools to analyze the traits of the virus across Canada will provide critical information for our public health response.”

Dr. Matthew Gilmour, Scientific Director General, Public Health Agency of Canada

[The National Microbiology Lab will coordinate the public health laboratories’ response and host the data analytic core for the viral genomics initiative, which will ensure rapid sharing of the sequence data.]

Quick Facts

  • On March 6, 2020, Genome Canada announced participation in a federal investment of $27 million to fund coronavirus research. This commitment was since increased by the Government of Canada to $54.2 million, with 99 COVID-related projects now funded.
  • On March 11, 2020, the federal government announced a $1-billion package to help Canadians cope with the COVID-19 outbreak, which included $275 million for coronavirus research and medical countermeasures, and $50 million to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for provinces and territories, as well as to address federal needs.
  • On March 26, 2020, Génome Québec launched COVID-19 – A New Initiative from the Québec Research Sector -the Québec COVID Biobank and Genome British Columbia launched a call for Rapid Response Funding for COVID-19 Projects.
  • On April 2, 2020, Genome Canada launched additional rapid response funding for COVID-19 research in the six regional Genome Centres across the country. That $1.5 million in funding aims to leverage other funding and support genomics-informed solutions to COVID-19 at local, provincial and national levels through collaborations between academia, industry, not-for-profit and public sectors.
  • Since 2000, the Government of Canada has made $1.5 billion in targeted investments for genomics research through Genome Canada.
  • The global genomics market is expected to reach US$27.6 billion in the next six years.

Social Media

Genome Canada news is on social media @GenomeCanada: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn


Nicola Katz
Director, Communications
Genome Canada
Cell: 613-297-0267

Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a catalyst for developing and applying genomics and genomic-based technologies, to create economic and social benefits for Canadians. Genome Canada connects ideas and people across public and private sectors to find new uses for genomics, invests in large-scale science and technology to fuel innovation, and translates discoveries into applications and solutions across key sectors of national importance, including health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries & aquaculture, energy, mining, and the environment.


Genome Atlantic is inviting proposals for genomics enabled project concepts from Atlantic Canadian stakeholders to address specific, short term needs which will allow the region to better respond to the pandemic. A total envelope of $250,000 in funds is available within Atlantic Canada. Registrations are being accepted until April 10th.