USask's VIDO-Intervac receives $23 million to fast-track development of COVID-19 vaccine

The University of Saskatchewan's VIDO-InterVac (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre) has been awarded $23 million to fast-track efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today.

This major federal investment will accelerate VIDO-InterVac's efforts to develop a Canadian vaccine against COVID-19, critical work that will help protect the health and safety of all Canadians and people around the world.

This funding is a credit to the outstanding VIDO-InterVac team that is working tirelessly at the forefront of COVID-19 research, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada and researchers across Canada and around the world."

Peter Stoicheff, USask President

The $23 million will support pre-clinical testing and two phases of clinical trials, essential steps to ensuring that vaccines are effective and safe for human use.

Manufacturing of the prototype vaccine and extensive safety assessment of the vaccine in animal models has been started, and will be completed this summer.

Clinical testing in humans is planned for the fall, with the vaccine potentially being available as early as next spring.

"Our goal is to make a safe and effective vaccine as quickly as possible," said VIDO-InterVac Director Dr. Volker Gerdts.

The Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials will test the safety of the vaccine to ensure no adverse effects and confirm that the vaccine works in humans as demonstrated in animal testing currently underway at VIDO-InterVac. This testing in humans will be done in Canada.

While there are more than 75 confirmed vaccine candidates under development in 19 countries around the world, Gerdts said it's important for Canada to develop a vaccine for Canadians.

"The global race to find a vaccine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of scale and speed, but it will take a significant amount of time for vaccines to be developed for the whole world," said Gerdts. "To ensure Canadians have access to these life-saving vaccines, it's important that we develop timely vaccines here in Canada."

VIDO-InterVac was the first lab in Canada to isolate the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). It was also the first lab in the country to establish an animal model for testing of vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics, and the first in Canada--and one of the very few in the world--to already have a sub-unit vaccine in animal testing. The vaccine is based on the centre's highly promising results for vaccines against closely related coronaviruses, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

While work on their vaccine progresses, VIDO-InterVac is testing various vaccines, antiviral medications, and novel treatments for companies with technologies. The centre has received more than 100 requests for this type of contract research.

The announcement comes on the heels of $23.3 million announced March 23 by the federal government for VIDO-InterVac--$12 million to complete their vaccine manufacturing facility to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards as required for human vaccine production, and $11.3 million for continued operational funding for the high containment laboratories over the coming year.

A world leader in developing vaccines and technologies to combat infectious diseases, VIDO-InterVac has also been awarded $1 million through the federal rapid research funding initiative for research projects aimed at addressing COVID-19.

This spring, the Saskatchewan government invested a total of $4.2 million for VIDO-InterVac, including $400,000 for VIDO-InterVac's vaccine manufacturing facility.

Canada now has almost 42,000 confirmed cases and 1,974 deaths from COVID-19.

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