Dear colleagues,

I want to provide you with the latest updates as we begin a new work week.

1. Protecting ourselves and our families

  • As of March 27, 90% of the NRC is teleworking (up from 80% on March 20).  This has been fantastic to see, thank you. As per my message from last week, we now need to continue our efforts to make sure those onsite are safe, and those teleworking are connected and engaged.

 

  • Our staff who remain onsite should only be essential staff, including those working on COVID-related programs, supporting key client projects they have asked us to complete, and performing critical tasks such as ensuring buildings are secure, monitoring equipment and facilities, keeping systems running safely, and a reduced crew receiving essential shipments at loading docks on reduced hours.

 

  • This coming week we need to continue to make sure that employees are clear on who is supposed to be working onsite, that their schedules ensure that at any time we are limited in our numbers in a given location, and that we are practicing physical distancing.  Through security patrols, limiting access to one door to our buildings, sign-in sheets at the doors of our facilities, and using a buddy system when employees are onsite, we are working to ensure employees are safe.  Also, in the case of contractors doing repairs and continuing renovation projects, we must ensure that they too are following safe practices and physical distancing.

 

  • Our shift to teleworking and limiting onsite operations continue to be led by Vice President Dale MacMillan and Tim Grubb (Incident Command Team), supported by Vice President Maria Aubrey and Deputy CIO Paul Cooke from KITSand for onsite business operations procedures and best practices, Vice Presidents Michel Dumoulin and Genevieve Tanguay and the DGs Research Operations Committee.

 
 
2. Protecting the health of Canadians

In order to support healthcare workers in local communities in which the NRC operates, we can provide unused personal protective equipment (PPE).  In addition, through our expertise and know-how, we can help stakeholders currently seeking to assist the fight against COVID-19 in a range of projects.

  • Equipment donations (e.g. masks): I have asked Directors General Denise LeBlanc-MacDonald and Ibrahim Yimer to coordinate NRC donations to hospitals and healthcare workers.  We are looking for supplies, as examples, a box of N95 masks or medical gloves in your lab that you can spare.

 

  • If you have any personal protective equipment supplies available to donate, please contact Michel Dion in HSE and copy Denise as per the email sent out on Friday by Dale MacMillan.

 

  • Providing advice to stakeholders: large companies, SMEs, academics, provincial governments, and citizens are all trying to help in the fight against COVID-19.  The energy, creativity, and variety of initiatives are truly amazing.  Stakeholders are organizing to manufacture ventilators, mix enzymes for test kits, test the quality of replacement masks, explore alternate sterilization techniques for clinical gowns and work on other collaborations.  For many of these projects, stakeholders simply want our advice and some short-term support.  Given the range of expertise and capacity of the NRC, we can help.

 

  • If you have been contacted by a stakeholder or are involved in a project to help someone, please email Claude Arab in ACRD.  She is supporting Denise and Ibrahim in tracking the various initiatives that are underway.

 

  • Today, we will assign an NRC lead for each topic in order to track and coordinate our contributions in a given area. An email will be sent out to all staff tomorrow, setting out the topic areas where we have been asked for help (e.g., face shields and ventilators) and the assigned leads.  Speaking of ventilators, check out Claude Larose’s contribution to a current project, which appeared in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

 

In addition to responding to short-term needs as described above, the NRC has also made great progress in the five business days since the Prime Minister and Minister Bains mandated the NRC to create new initiatives for the medium-term to help Canada fight COVID-19. For instance:

  • NRC Pandemic Response Challenge Program (led by Vice President Roman Szumski and Acting Vice-President JF Houle):

 

    • 767 researchers (SMEs/ academic/government) entered expressions of interest in the challenge program by registering on the NRC website between March 20 and 23.
    • Given the broad range of activity already underway around short-term needs like PPE (e.g., masks and gloves) and manufacturing equipment like ventilators, the Challenge Program team is focusing on three main research themes: 1) rapid detection and diagnosis; 2) therapeutics and vaccine development; and 3) digital health.

 

  • IRAP-Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) funding for SMEs seeking to solve COVID-19 challenges (led by Vice President David Lisk and Director of Business Continuity Drew Chassin de Kergommeaux):

 

    • The first challenges are in development and will be posted at the end of this coming week or next on ISC’s website.
    • More than 700 Canadian SMEs have registered as of March 26 via the link on the NRC website.  Starting April 1, they will be triaged through a series of five regional “Bidders Day” e-pitch sessions, in which IRAP experts and public health authorities will identify high potential COVID-19 response-related opportunities. Strong candidates will be given access to the next stage (technical review portal), while others not appropriate for IRAP-ISC support will be referred to other government resources.
    • Priority areas include personal protective equipment, sanitization, diagnostic and testing, therapeutics, and disease tracking technologies.

 

  • Vaccine candidate development / NRC HHT Royalmount upgrade (led by Vice President Roman Szumski, Director General Lakshmi Krishnan, and Director R&D Frank Van Lier):

 

    • The NRC’s Human Health Therapeutics facility in Royalmount (Montreal) is equipped with pilot-scale bioreactors (200 L and 500 L), which will be operationally available to assist vaccine candidates with scale-up to commercial production. Working with Health Canada the upgrade investments and achievement of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are targeting completion by June.
    • Given the NRC’s longstanding ties with industry on vaccines, HHT is also currently in discussions to advance vaccine candidates to clinical trials in Canada.

 
 
3. Supporting our clients

All across the NRC last week we focused on getting employees set-up for teleworking.

  • KITS did superb work in week one by supplying devices (and they are still providing more to those who need phones and laptops) and securing additional VPN licenses, which are progressing toward greater stability of the network.

 

  • All across the NRC, we are beginning to do great work setting up meetings, regular check-ins, “group lunches” using tools such as Zoom and making sure everyone feels connected. Please keep this up, it is great to see.  Through these discussions we are beginning to better understand as a community what kinds of work we can advance through telework, what still requires periodic onsite activity, and overall how we can support our partners and collaborators.  In short, we are learning and determining what value the NRC can contribute to our partners in the time of COVID-19 – specifically, what is actually possible?

 

  • Teleworking means we all need to get used to our new work environment. If you find you need items from your NRC workspace to work more effectively offsite, such as your chair, monitor or keyboard, please arrange for a time with your manager to do so.

 

  • For this coming week, I have asked Maria Aubrey and Director General Chris Johnstone to work with the Vice Presidents and Directors General to gather up early intelligence on how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting our existing and planned contracts, collaborations, and revenues.  We need to take stock of what is possible and what the impact is likely to be, in order to then also determine how we can best support our clients through the labs.

 

  • One thing that keeps coming up in this context is the concern about lay-offs.  It is not anyone’s fault that COVID-19 has struck and changed our way of life.  The move to teleworking is to support Government-mandated efforts to enable physical distancing and limit the spread of the virus.  It is challenging for people whose day-to-day work involves equipment and our facilities. That said, management, teams leads, and supervisors should be working with all employees (and students and post-docs) to engage on meaningful work.  That is the plan; we are not considering any staff layoffs.

 

  • In the case of IRAP, the Minister of Finance announced new measures for our client base to help their liquidity, including wage subsidies and interest free loans. As soon as the Department of Finance (DoF) releases more details about these initiatives, David Lisk and team will distribute a simple summary fact sheet (hopefully by end of day today or tomorrow) for ITAs to share it with SMEs to ensure they are aware of the liquidity assistance being provided and taking advantage of it.  David will be developing a way for employees to provide preliminary feedback on what you are hearing in response to DoF initiatives from your clients by the end of week.  This intelligence will help us to advise DoF if it is working or not, and what are the gaps or the kinds of firms for which the assistance is not going to work.

 
 
In closing, I hope you and your families are doing well, and hang in there for week three of teleworking.

Iain
President
National Research Council of Canada