A patient receives a flu shot.

An international pharmaceutical company is providing $12 million for what it calls a “unique” network of hospitals across Canada conducting research on the influenza vaccine.

Dr. Rav Kumar, vice-president of research and development at the London-based GlaxoSmith-
Kline, made the funding announcement in Halifax on Thursday.

He said the Public Health Agency of Canada/Canadian Institutes of Health Research Influenza Research Network, headed by the Halifax-based Dr. Shelly McNeil, is something that is unique to the country.

“This is a capability … that is not present anywhere else in the world,” said Kumar at Dalhousie’s Life Science Research Institute.

McNeil, an infectious-disease specialist at Capital Health, is leading the study that measures the vaccine’s effectiveness. About 40 hospitals from coast to coast are currently contributing to the research.

But the additional funding over the next three years will allow more research sites to be set up in additional provinces like Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, said McNeil.

“If we want to truly understand how the vaccine is working, we need to be able to … have enough cases so that we have a big enough sample size to be able to ask the scientific questions around how well the vaccine is working,” said McNeil, who is also an associate professor at Dalhousie University, “but also enough geographic variability so that we catch what’s happening.”

McNeil said every site examines hospital patients and compares those who have and do not have influenza with whether or not they have been vaccinated.

She said the $12 million is a “considerable investment in this infrastructure that we’ve been building over the last few years.”

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