The Pandemic Response Challenge program


The Pandemic Response Challenge program brings together the best Canadian and international researchers to fast‑track research and development (R&D) aimed at specific COVID-19 gaps and challenges identified by Canada's health experts. We are building these teams from government, universities, and Canadian business to accelerate the development of diagnostics tools and medical countermeasures for a rapid front-line response to protect and treat Canadians affected by the pandemic.

Areas of focus

The Pandemic Response Challenge Program is structured around 4 main research pillars.

Rapid detection and diagnosis

  • Detect and diagnose the COVID-19 virus with advanced methodology and sampling technologies based on molecular signatures
  • Develop and refine field-deployable detection and diagnosis devices

Therapeutics and vaccines

  • Develop biologics and antibodies to counteract disease in the critically ill
  • Develop vaccines using NRC expertise in antigen design, and vaccine delivery and formulation

Project spotlight

NRC researchers mobilize to advance vaccine technologies against COVID-19

Under the Pandemic Response Challenge Program, the NRC is working with trusted partners as part of a collective effort to help find solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, we're currently working with collaborators at VBI Vaccines (based in Massachusetts, with research operations in Ottawa) and VIDO-InterVac (based at the University of Saskatchewan).

Digital patient care and pandemic analytics

  • Develop low-cost, high-precision contactless sensor systems for widespread patient monitoring
  • Personalize artificial-intelligence assistants to help remote and vulnerable populations
  • Improve our grasp of digital tools to understand how the virus behaves and monitor its spread in the community

Enabling adaptive responses

  • Validate technologies to empower medical practitioners to transform and adapt healthcare delivery
  • Supply clinicians with access to innovative solutions for healthcare delivery during the pandemic
  • Provide technology developers with end-user and real-world feedback

Project spotlight

Ensuring safe, effective N95 respirators (Metrology)

When worn properly, certified N95 respirators reduce the risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles and aerosols. The N95 designation means that, when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small test particles that are representative of pathogens.

The importance of testing

As part of the NRC's COVID-19 response, the Metrology Research Centre is developing unique-in-Canada capability to test the performance (i.e., particulate filter efficiency level) of N95 respirators and respirator material, according to the TEB-APR-STP-0059 (PDF) test standard.

This testing is important to determine whether N95 respirators meet the mandatory performance standards to protect the wearer, and assess how new materials and manufacturing processes perform so manufacturers can produce safe, effective N95 respirators in Canada.

Developing N95 testing capability in Canada

The Metrology Research Centre is engaged in a number of areas to develop the capacity and expertise necessary to test N95 respirators and respirator material in Canada:

  • Direct testing: We perform testing for federal government partners and in support of COVID-19 challenge programs at NRC facilities in Ottawa
  • Capacity building: We are working with partners in industry and government to help modify existing testing infrastructure and expertise to meet the test standard
  • Information sharing: We facilitate connections between organizations requiring testing and qualified testing facilities across Canada
  • Long-term support: We will continue working with regulators, industry, organizations, and other stakeholders within Canada's national quality infrastructure to distribute and solidify N95 respirator testing nationwide

Accessing this testing service

Due to the urgent need for N95 respirators for front-line workers, the NRC's N95 respirator testing service is strictly accessible at this time to the NRC's COVID-19 response programs only. The Metrology Research Centre is working to expand its testing capacity to meet more demand, and will advise how to access these services as they become available.

We are also supporting our partners with an interest in developing this testing capability by providing advisory services, expertise, and— once available— our standard test apparatus. To speak to an expert about developing N95 testing capability at your organization, please contact us at

Testing COVID-19 decontamination equipment (Clēan Works Inc.)

The NRC purchased 20 decontamination devices from Beamsville, Ontario company Clēan Works Inc. to send to hospitals as part of a Pandemic Response Challenge program study that will evaluate the use of this technology in Canada's healthcare system. The device, called the Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini, decontaminates personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators, masks, and medical gowns, so they can be safely reused by medical professionals.

Clēan Works Inc. originally manufactured a version of this device, Clēan Flow, as a food safety solution. With business advisory support and R&D funding from the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), Clēan Works Inc. modified its existing solution to help the Government of Canada in its efforts against COVID-19.

The Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini has been proven to kill 99.99% of a surrogate for the novel coronavirus on disposable filtering face masks. The Healthcare Mini received Class 2 medical device certification from Health Canada and now meets the requirements for use in hospitals and other healthcare organizations.

"Working with NRC IRAP enabled us to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using our combined expertise we were able to retool our existing solution to increase the availability of medical PPE for Canadian healthcare and frontline workers. We are very fortunate we are able to make such a meaningful contribution to the health and safety of our fellow Canadians."

Mark VanderVeen, President, Clēan Works Inc.

Collaborate with us

Over the coming weeks, we will post specific R&D challenges, send information to registered researchers, and invite them to indicate the expertise and capabilities they can bring to a team.

We will call upon researchers at Canadian and international universities, colleges, highly innovative firms, and government departments with relevant expertise to work on specific projects in each of the Pandemic Response Challenge Program's areas of focus. Funding will be available to help cover the costs of research for academic institutions, small and medium-sized businesses, and other eligible recipients participating in the challenge teams.

Call for capabilities

Open calls

  • There are currently no open call for capabilities

Closed calls