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Sanofi Pasteur and NSERC invest in $2.6 million collaboration at York University to combat infectious diseases with Math

Sanofi Pasteur and NSERC invest in $2.6 million collaboration at York University to combat infectious diseases with Math

Better analysis of transmission key to targeting flu and childhood diseases

TORONTO, Jan. 23, 2018 − A major new research initiative based in the Faculty of Science at York University will develop mathematical techniques to identify populations most susceptible to infectious diseases and enable manufacturers to produce cost-effective vaccines that can be deployed quickly. The research is also expected to better position Canada to respond rapidly to emerging public health issues such as Zika outbreaks.

The $2.6-million NSERC/Sanofi Industrial Research Chair in Vaccine Mathematics, Modelling and Manufacturing, awarded to York University Distinguished Research Professor Jianhong Wu, was announced at York today.  A professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Science, Wu will lead a large team of York professors, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students.

Sanofi Pasteur, which has previously collaborated with York on a number of major projects related to infectious disease modelling, will invest $1.5 million over five years. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will provide $1 million through its Industrial Research Chair program, established to help universities build on existing strengths in areas of interest to industry. The remainder will be contributed by York University through various supports.

Manufacturers of vaccines in Canada are facing a number of significant challenges: the increasing cost of developing vaccines, the need to move rapidly from development and production of vaccines to mass use in target populations; and the complexity of understanding how infectious disease is transmitted, in an increasingly interconnected world.

Canadian vaccine manufacturers and regulatory authorities need to be able to make evidence-based predictions and develop new technologies to analyze how diseases are transmitted. Wu and his team will develop fundamental mathematical theories, methodologies, techniques and tools to analyze infection risk in populations, map the spread of disease through mathematical modelling and conduct cost-benefit analyses of immunization programs based on vaccine efficiency and industrial production capacity.

The IRC program will include projects that will study: the use of vaccines to address hospital acquired infections such as Clostridium difficile (C.diff) and the need to combat colonization of hospital wards; transmission of influenza in three-generation households to determine if there are segments of the population where the high-dose flu vaccine should be targeted; and the impact of childhood immunization on transmission of disease, along with optimal programs of booster follow-ups.

Sanofi Pasteur will benefit from the mathematical methodologies and technologies developed as well as the datasets collected and analyzed. York students will benefit from Sanofi Pasteur’s research and development expertise, and gain valuable experiential education opportunities, as they train to become Canada’s next generation of experts in mathematical modelling, data analytics, economic evaluation and infectious disease dynamics.

Wu, who is also a Canada Research Chair in Industrial and Applied Mathematics, founded York’s Centre for Disease Modelling, which has developed many international partnerships: with China on communicable disease modelling and management; with India on vector-borne disease informatics; with Brazil on health informatics; and with many European and North American groups on a wide variety of major diseases. The Industrial Research Chair project will use his Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation facilities.


“The NSERC/Sanofi Industrial Research Chair grant is a testimony to the leadership that both NSERC and Sanofi Pasteur provide in supporting impactful research excellence and innovation at York University. As an innovative scientist and a leader in his field, Dr. Wu is the well-deserving recipient of this Industrial Research Chair grant, which will leverage the world-class disease modelling expertise at York to meet significant challenges faced by Canadian vaccine manufacturers.”
Rhonda L. Lenton, President and Vice-Chancellor, York University

“NSERC’s Industrial Research Chairs provide a unique platform that combines the forces of academic and industry partners, turning great ideas into real-world solutions. Dr. Wu and his team’s new mathematical technologies could help cut development costs and the time to bring vaccines to market, accelerating the impact on patients’ health.”
B. Mario Pinto, President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

“Sanofi in Canada is proud to support this collaborative effort. It is another great example of how industry, academia and government can come together to benefit Canadians and support the advancement of science in our country. As Canada’s leading investor in biopharmaceutical R&D, having consistently invested a minimum of approximately double the industry commitment of our revenues each year, we look forward to seeing the results of this partnership and how it will help to empower the lives of Canadians.”
Niven Al-Khoury, President, Sanofi Canada

“Establishing the NSERC/Sanofi Industrial Research Chair at York University will not only accelerate frontline research and support Canadian industry, but also help improve the wellbeing of people around the globe. It is yet another example of the exciting research initiatives in York’s Faculty of Science that engage our faculty members and students with partners in the public and private sectors to enhance value and maximize impact.”
Ray Jayawardhana, Dean, Faculty of Science, York University

“The dedicated resources this collaboration brings will enable us to focus on infectious diseases that are critically important to the health of Canadians. With access to clinical trial data and vaccine efficacy data from both public agencies and the private sector, we will use mathematical modelling to inform the most efficient and cost-effective ways to immunize the public against these diseases.”
Jianhong Wu, York University Distinguished Research Professor, Faculty of Science

York University champions new ways of thinking that drive teaching and research excellence. Our students receive the education they need to create big ideas that make an impact on the world. Meaningful and sometimes unexpected careers result from cross-disciplinary programming, innovative course design and diverse experiential learning opportunities. York students and graduates push limits, achieve goals and find solutions to the world’s most pressing social challenges, empowered by a strong community that opens minds. York U is an internationally recognized research university – our 11 faculties and 25 research centres have partnerships with 200+ leading universities worldwide. Located in Toronto, York is the third largest university in Canada, with a strong community of 53,000 students, 7,000 faculty and administrative staff, and more than 300,000 alumni. York U's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contact:
Janice Walls, Media Relations, York University, 416 455 4710,