VICTORIA AND MONTREAL
August 12, 2020
Rocket Science Health and Inez Jabalpurwala have teamed up to launch VINEx – a multi-disciplinary exploration of how viruses directly and indirectly affect the central nervous system (CNS), and the potential impact on brain health in the immediate and longer term. VINEx aims to provide catalytic leadership to connect the people, knowledge and funding needed to advance research at the intersection of neuroscience/neurology, virology, immunology and data science – from basic science to clinical studies. The initial focus will be SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses which may have an olfactory entry point into the CNS. This work will address what could be a major health crisis in the months and years after the COVID-19 pandemic, and also contribute to the knowledge base around the impact of viruses on neurological health more generally.
Inez Jabalpurwala, Rocket Science Health’s Senior Advisor on Brain Initiatives and Global Director of VINEx, said, “There is evidence that some viruses can cause devasting neurological harm and even invade the CNS. Research has suggested a link between viral infection and dementias, for example, as well as to essentially untreatable viral encephalides. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a number of small studies around the world on the ability of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses to affect other body systems, including the CNS. We believe that understanding this potential pathway – and the impact viruses like SARS-CoV-2 have on the CNS – can lead to the development of new diagnostic tools and therapeutics – if not for this pandemic, then for a future one. By connecting the dots to create a larger evidence base, and capitalizing on Canada’s leadership in brain research and culture of collaboration, we can accelerate positive outcomes in this vital area.”
“With her deep experience building multi-disciplinary collaborations and changing paradigms to accelerate the pace of research, we can’t think of a better person to provide catalytic leadership in this important space than Inez,” said Kenneth C. Irving (“Irv”), co-founder of Rocket Science Health. “While the current COVID-19 crisis creates urgency, this is a long-term effort that grows out of a commitment Rocket Science Health made over three years ago to pursue Pandemic Preparedness as one of four non-commercial, social impact projects. By contributing to this effort, we can expand scientific knowledge in an area that is critical to public health and of interest to our business. Beyond that, there’s the potential that our device could be helpful in delivering self-administered therapeutics on a very large scale – which is something we would do at the lowest possible cost on a non-commercial, social-impact basis.”
The initiative has quickly attracted support from world-class researchers and clinicians, including those who are serving as members of the VINEx Science Advisory Council (SAC). The SAC is providing input and advice to ensure that the virus-brain initiative is developed, executed and monitored with scientific integrity, and in the context of the latest advances in this area; this includes knowledge we can draw from the study of other viruses, and potential links to neurodegenerative diseases. Its members include (in alphabetical order):
- Fernanda De Felice, PhD, Adjunct Associate Professor of the Centre for Neuroscience Studies & Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University; Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Neurosciences at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Brazil.
- Marc Desforges, PhD, Specialist in Medical Biology, Virology Lab, CHU Sainte-Justine, Montreal, Quebec.
- Renée Douville, PhD, Professor, University of Winnipeg, Department of Biology.
- Douglas P. Munoz, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience; Professor of Biomedical and Molecular Science, Medicine, and Psychology; Queen’s University.
- Dr. Adrian Owen, PhD, Professor at The Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, Canada and the former Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging. Dr. Owen is leading the COVID-19 Brain Study https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study
- Christopher Power, M.D., F.R.C.P(C), Canada Research Chair in Neurological Infection and Immunity; Professor of Neurology at the University of Alberta; Attending physician in the University of Alberta HIV and MS Clinics; Founding Director of the University of Alberta Multiple Sclerosis Centre.
In addition, Alan C. Evans PhD, Avindra Nath, M.D. and Pierre J. Talbot, PhD have agreed to serve as Special Advisors to the SAC. Dr. Evans is the James McGill Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering; Researcher in the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre (BIC); Co-director of the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics and Mental Health; Principal Investigator of CBRAIN; and Victor Dahdaleh Chair in Neurosciences at Montreal Neurological Institute – McGill University. Dr. Nath is Senior Investigator – Section of Infections of the Nervous System; Clinical Director – NINDS of the National Institutes of Health (US). Dr. Talbot is Director - Laboratory of Neuroimmunovirology, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Université du Québec.
Drawing from a comprehensive literature review and input from the Science Advisory Council, VINEx has identified five key lines of inquiry aimed at creating a robust approach to understanding viral neuroinvasion – from lab-bench to population health. These include: (1) the risk factors for neuro-COVID; (2) the origination and development (neuropathogenesis) of neuro-COVID; (3) clinical manifestations and potential diagnostic biomarkers of neuro-COVID; (4) long-term sequelae and potential linkages to neurological disease; and (5) potential therapeutics for mitigating risk-factors, preventing viral neuroinvasion and treating associated and ongoing neurodegenerative disease. Across these areas will be sex and gender considerations, as well as ethical, social and legal implications of the research, where relevant.
Prior to partnering with Rocket Science Health, Inez served as Founding CEO of the Brain Canada Foundation, a role she held for nearly two decades. During her tenure at Brain Canada, Inez led the development of a research program that primarily focused on enabling teams of scientists to work across disciplines, disorders and institutions to explore common, underlying mechanisms, while also securing nearly $300 million in funding for brain-related research. She was a pioneer in building the case for the brain as one interconnected system, and rallied more than 100 partners to that vision. In joining Rocket Science Health, Inez is continuing her passion for building communities to address complex science challenges, and expanding the one brain vision to explore connections within the whole human system.
Rocket Science Health is a start-up company engaged in the development of medical devices for use in the treatment of CNS conditions by enabling nose-to-brain delivery of pharmaceuticals via the olfactory region of the nasal cavity.
The VINEx Initiative is dedicated to the memory of The Honourable Michael H. Wilson. In addition to so many other things, Michael was a dear friend to Irv and Inez. He inspired, mentored and introduced them, and it is his sense of public service, his commitment to brain science and mental health, and his undying belief in Canada’s extraordinary potential that infuses this endeavor.
For more information, please visit us at VINEx and Rocket Science Health.
Longview Communications & Public Affairs