Page last updated:
 June 18 at 04:00pm ET

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Manulife CIFAR Population Health & Well-being Grant Program 

Applications Closed

CIFAR is issuing a targeted call for interdisciplinary research collaborations focused on Population and Public Health related to COVID-19 to spark innovative, high-risk/high-reward ideas and projects. The Manulife CIFAR Population Health & Well-being Grants provide seed funding for time-limited activities. 


Society, Technology & Ethics in a Pandemic (STEP)
Expert Advisory Group  

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for Canada and the world. Major scientific efforts are focused on understanding the virus, developing vaccines, and finding treatment options. At the same time, many in the scientific community have turned their energies toward developing novel digital and biological technologies in response to the pandemic. 

At the request of Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, CIFAR established an Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on Society, Technology and Ethics in a Pandemic (STEP) to advise on the technical, social, legal, and ethical considerations for deploying novel technologies in response to COVID-19. 

This independent group includes leading Canadian experts in law, regulatory innovation, artificial intelligence, epidemiology, clinical care, philosophy, ethics, and public policy. Their advice has informed this report. It is intended to be a clear reference document to inform government actions and decision making. 

Read the report

STEP Membership:

  • Alan Bernstein, President & CEO, CIFAR

  • Deborah Cook, MD, McMaster Critical Care and member of Chief Science Advisor’s Expert Panel on COVID-19

  • Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Université de Montréal, Mila

  • Michael Geist, University of Ottawa

  • Gillian Hadfield, Schwartz Reisman Centre, University of Toronto

  • Bartha Knoppers, McGill University 

  • The Honourable Anne McLellan, Vice-Chair, CIFAR Board of Directors (Chair)

  • Morris Rosenberg, former Deputy Minister, Government of Canada

  • Mark Schmidt, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, University of British Columbia 

  • Ashleigh Tuite, U of T, Dalla Lana School and University Health Network 

For more information, contact:
Rebecca Finlay
Vice-President, Engagement & Public Policy (CIFAR)



The IDRC and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency have launched a call for proposals for its $10 million COVID-19 Global South Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Program. The Program aims to support multidisciplinary research to deepen understanding of how to develop and scale responsible (inclusive, rights-based, ethical, and sustainable) evidence-based artificial intelligence (AI) and data science approaches that support COVID-19 response and recovery in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The deadline to apply is June 28, 2020.

Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) COVID-19 Challenges:

  • Rapid response: Real-time insights for pandemic decision-making
  • Scrubbing your scrubs: Finding ways to re-use COVID-19 protective gear
  • Super sanitize: Cleaning sensitive equipment and workspaces


  • UNCOVER COVID-19 Challenge: The Roche Data Science Coalition (RDSC) has been collaboratively fighting COVID-19 with machine learning. Through a series of challenges to model solutions to key questions that were developed and evaluated by a global frontline of healthcare providers, hospitals, suppliers, and policy makers, the RDSC aims to connect the AI community with frontline responders.

    The RDSC has been evaluating solutions and surfacing this research to experts.

  • White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Call to Action to the ML Community on a new machine readable COVID-19 dataset (CORD-19) which contains over 29,000 scientific articles on the virus.  The Call to Action asks ML experts to develop new text and data mining techniques that can help the science community answer high-priority scientific questions related to COVID-19.

    • The CORD-19 resource is available on the Allen Institute’s website and will continue to be updated as new research is published in archival services and peer-reviewed publications.

    • Researchers should submit the text and data mining tools and insights they develop in response to this call to action via the Kaggle platform

Datasets and other resources

  • Stanford’s list of COVID-19 Imaging AI Resources: The resources were compiled by researchers around the world with the goal of supporting research and education efforts that are critical to better understanding and diagnosing COVID-19.

  • The Embassy of Canada to Belgium and Luxembourg is working to connect Canadian and EU researchers working on COVID-19 responses.The European Commission recently launched the Exscalate4CoV initiative, a project involving 18 research organizations from seven EU countries and Switzerland to simulate and analyze three million molecules per second (with a library of 500 billion molecules) with the aim to identify drugs and treatments for COVID19. 

  • AI Against COVID-19 Canada - Resources, projects, datasets for the AI community.

  • The Cyclica stimulus plan provides access to expertise and AI-enabled platforms suited for drug repurposing, target deconvolution, and drug design. The company offers their technical support with no upfront cost to academic groups and biotech companies working on COVID-19.

  • ElementAI has released an open research platform for the scientific community. This free semantic search platform has been developed to assist researchers and the scientific community at large, to help access information and accelerate research efforts vital to mitigating the pandemic. Currently built on the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset CORD-19), the database will continue to grow with both structured and unstructured formats as other open datasets become available.

  • DarwinAI announced COVID-Net: an open source neural network for COVID-19 detection. They are open-sourcing this model to the community in hopes of developing a robust tool to assist health care professionals in combating the pandemic. The source code, documentation, dataset, and scientific paper describing COVID-Net are available at this GitHub repository.

  • Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) Canadian COVID-19 Resources: includes data on health care workers, hospital beds and ventilation, and further health system and spending data.

  • Crowdsourced symptom report and tracking sites:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) developed a primer on the science of Coronavirus, with articles summarizing the best available information on the virus, the disease it causes, and the progress of research into treatments, vaccines, epidemiology, and public health. 

  • A team of Canadian researchers, students, activists, and web developers built a resource page with links for scientists, policy makers, and the public. They are compiling lists of research projects, volunteer opportunities, and reagent requirements

  • The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University has convened a rapid response team to bring scholarship to bear on the crisis by providing an avenue for swift dissemination of white papers focused on issues of ethics and governance.

  • CanCOVID - Canada's federally mandated, expert-led COVID-19 research response.

  • Mila researchers are using AI to tackle issues around COVID-19.They are seeking additional collaborators from all areas of computer science and health sciences to strengthen these projects. To join the effort, you are encouraged to reachout at: 

  • Data Scientists Against COVID-19 with a mission to connect people who have COVID-19 related data and/or require help of data scientists with data scientists.

  • DeepMind has released structure predictions for six proteins associated with the virus that causes COVID-19, generated by the most up-to-date version of its AlphaFold deep learning system. DeepMind is releasing the open license research in consultation with the U.K.’s Francis Crick Institute. Read the full statement. Please note the predictions have not been experimentally verified but may contribute to the research community’s understanding of the virus.

  • Amii is contributing to the global fight against COVID-19, lending scientific expertise, amplifying and augmenting high-impact initiatives, and acting as a catalyst for change. Read Amii’s Executive Brief to learn more.

  • Roche Data Science Coalition - Led by Hoffmann-La Roche Limited (Roche Canada), this working group brings together public and private organizations – including NVIDIA,, Self Care Catalysts, Health Storylines, Vector Institute, ThinkData Works, and RGAX – to develop translational solutions in three key areas: Patient Support, Insights into Capacity Issues, Research Enhancement.


International Roundtable on AI & COVID-19 
March 23, 2020

Read the report

A virtual roundtable, chaired by Dr. Alan Bernstein, President & CEO, CIFAR included Canadian and international leaders in AI, start-ups, experts in infectious disease, epidemiology and clinicians. The group explored opportunities for collaboration and sharing of datasets between AI and infectious disease researchers.


  • The Statistics Research Institute at Statistics Korea is organizing a meeting with G20 leaders to take decisive actions together in public health, data sharing, medical treatment, and vaccine. 

AI and COVID-19 Virtual Policy Briefing
March 24, 2020

Following the first AI and COVID-19 Expert Roundtable, CIFAR held a virtual briefing for Canadian and international policy-makers to provide up-to-the-minute updates and insights. Over 50 participants from federal, provincial and municipal governments across Canada as well the US and UK were briefed on the policy relevant insights on data and the potential of AI that emerged from the expert roundtable.

Read the briefing report

Outcomes and Next Steps:

Data access and sharing: The need for high quality, integrated data is critical in responding to COVID-19 and future pandemics was a key discussion point. CIFAR is working with federal and provincial health data holders to better understand their needs and opportunities for collaboration within the context of COVID-19 and AI. 

Contract tracing app development: As has been seen in other jurisdictions, contact tracing can be critical in reducing the rate of transmission of COVID-19. Two teams led by CIFAR Fellows and Canada CIFAR AI Chairs Alán Aspuru-Guzik (Vector Institute, University of Toronto) and Yoshua Bengio (Mila, Université de Montréal) are working very quickly to develop apps for contact tracing while maintaining the privacy of users. 

Planning for a future virtual discussion to share insights from across jurisdictions is currently underway.

For more information, contact:

   Rebecca Finlay

   Vice-President, Engagement & Public Policy (CIFAR)


CIFAR Learning in Machines & Brains Program
Call to Action: Machine Learning & COVID-19
March 20, 2020

CIFAR held a conference call open to all members of its Learning in Machines & Brains program. The group discussed projects and initiatives Fellows and Advisors are engaged in that connect AI and machine learning applications to COVID-19. 

Program members are currently working on projects that touch all areas of society including:

  • biological aspects and vaccine creation;
  • contamination models (prediction, health systems capacity, etc.);
  • information dissemination (mis/dis-information); and
  • tools for socialization during mass social distancing. 

Areas of strategic importance that may require additional funding and support for collaborations include:

  • need for increased computing power
  • formation of data trusts
  • open source data and information.

For more information, or to support these efforts, please contact:
Rachel Parker, PhD, Senior Director, Research (CIFAR)


CIFAR researchers are conducting research in a variety of areas to address the COVID-19 crisis:

Alán Aspuru-Guzik (Fellow, Bio-inspired Solar Energy, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is scaling therapeutic molecules, new soaps and coatings, and inhibitors for its reproduction machinery – Aspuru-Guzik is also leading a project to use active learning models to find the most effective surfactants and surface coatings for reducing viral lifetimes. The goal is to reduce their lifetimes to under one hour.

The teams of Yoshua Bengio (Co-director, Learning in Machines & Brains, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila), Jian Tang (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila), graduate student Maksym Korablyov (Université de Montréal), and the Mila startup InVivo AI, has developed a deep reinforcement learning system which can quickly evaluate billions of candidate molecules. The approach can gradually modify the molecular structure by adding or removing building blocks in order to converge toward new molecular structures that can bind a target protein.

Arturo Casadevall (Fungal Kingdom, Johns Hopkins University) is developing a treatment for COVID-19 based on the antibodies of survivors, extracted from blood serum. The treatment has been approved for compassionate use by the US Food and Drug Administration. The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project is now asking for plasma donations from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

Eran Elinav (Humans & the Microbiome, Weizmann Institute) has converted his institute’s robotics and microbiology expertise to set up a fully-automated, high-throughput SARS-CoV-2 detection system, capable of screening 20,000 diagnostic samples in one run of a few hours. He expects calibrations to be complete the week of March 30, followed by a roll-out to test Israelis, and then sharing the process globally.

David Fleet (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) and a team of researchers have developed a software program that led to the first 3D mapping of the Coronavirus.

Naama Geva-Zatorsky (CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar, Humans & the Microbiome) is developing a rapid, inexpensive and simple home test kit for coronavirus to be used in Israel. The team is developing a protocol that enables adaptation for home testing with results in less than an hour.

Marzyeh Ghassemi (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is using AI for screening and risk stratification of COVID-19 patients  with CT/X-ray data.

Allison Harell (Boundaries, Membership & Belonging, Université de Québec à Montréal) and her team at the Consortium on Electoral Democracy fielded survey questions in Canada at the end of March about levels of fear, personal social distancing behaviour, norms around social distancing, and satisfaction with governments’ handling of the pandemic. Results from the government satisfaction portion of the survey are discussed in this article in Policy Options.  

Susan Helper (Innovation, Equity & the Future of Prosperity, Case Western Reserve University) is providing advice on the best economic policy options available. She has written articles on how hotels and car manufacturers could be repurposed to fight COVID-19, how the US supply chain must change, and articulated broad principles for economic policy during this time. She has also given a talk on the economic impact of coronavirus.

Evan Lieberman (Boundaries, Membership & Belonging, MIT) co-authored a white paper on solidarity, shedding light on the nature of social solidarity and how it might be effectively built and maintained in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arthur McDonald (Gravity & the Extreme Universe, Queen’s University) has organized a team of dark matter scientists at TRIUMF, Chalk River and SNOLAB to build 30,000 ventilators for patients with COVID-19. They are partnering with an international collaboration of dark matter scientists who are applying their experience with gas handling systems and complex control systems to create ventilators that will be small and highly portable, so they can be easily shipped between care sites. The ventilator has been approved for emergency use by the United States Food and Drug Administration and is now awaiting approval by Health Canada.

Quaid Morris (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is using AI to explore ways to analyze COVID-19 sequences.

Reihaneh Rabbany (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila) is using data mining of COVID-19 related tweets to discover temporal and spatial trends, as well as common mentions and keywords linked to COVID-19.

Irina Rish (Canada CIFAR AI Chair,Mila) and Guy Wolf (Université de Montréal) are leading a project which leverages data analysis to provide mechanistic understanding of COVID-19 disease progression in order to assess the risk of given medical/patient profiles, as well as to help identify binding targets for antiviral agents and potential vaccines. 

Bo Wang (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) and collaborators at Vector Institute have released a scientific paper search tool to help with the COVID-19 crisis.The tool provides the most up-to-date capture of relevant research papers to aid researchers around the world. 

Frank Wood (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila) and his collaborators at the PLAI research group at UBC have produced the paper Planning as Inference in Epidemiological Models. The research demonstrates how existing software tools can be used to automate parts of infectious disease-control policy-making via performing inference in existing epidemiological dynamics models.


If there are additional resources or ongoing research you would like to see included on this page, please contact:
Elissa Strome, PhD
Interim Vice-President Research & Executive Director,
Pan-Canadian AI Strategy (CIFAR)

We will endeavour to keep this page as up to date as possible, given the quickly changing circumstances.