Canada can't rely on other countries and companies to create vaccines, says Volker Gerdts, CEO of Saskatoon's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).
VIDO had early success with promising COVID-19 vaccine research, but Gerdts said progress slowed because the company doesn't have its own manufacturing facility.
"If we had that available, then we could have been faster," Gerdts told CBC's Saskatoon Morning. "We could have been a few months faster."
He said there is a lack of manufacturing capacity for vaccines in Canada, but that governments are starting to step up and fund those types of facilities.
Gerdts said that once the vaccine is approved and the facility is built, VIDO will be able to produce about 40 million doses a year.
The facility won't be limited to vaccines developed at VIDO. Gerdts said it will have the ability to make all sorts of vaccines for both humans and animals.
"In principle, we are able to also produce, for example, the AstraZeneca vaccine or the Novavax vaccine," he said. Anybody really from around the world or in Canada who wants to use our facility, they could come, we would contract manufacture for them and then, you know, move on and work with somebody else. It's really a contract manufacturing facility."
Having such a facility would make future vaccine development much faster, Gerdts said.
It would also give Canada more certainty when it comes to procuring vaccines for citizens.
Shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are currently delayed while Pfizer pauses some production lines to expand long-term manufacturing capacity
"It is really fast how vaccines are being made right now and much faster than normally. And so when things are going that fast, it's normal that even for a big company like Pfizer, you know, they have to make some adjustments," Gerdts said.
"It's really an exceptional situation that we see right now around the globe, but also here in Canada."
In 2020, VIDO received about $50.5 million from the federal and provincial governments for the construction of the vaccine manufacturing facility and COVID-19 vaccine development, a representative from VIDO said.
In addition to their work on a COVID-19 vaccine, VIDO also worked with organizations from around the world to develop other therapeutics, antivirals and vaccines against COVID-19.
Clinical trials starting soon
Work on the made-in-Saskatchewan vaccine continues.
VIDO received the green light from Health Canada before Christmas to proceed with clinical trials, Gerdts said, and those are now beginning in Halifax.
"The site in Halifax is really one of the leading ones in Canada," Gerdts said. "They're the experts, especially for COVID-19. Most vaccines actually are being tested there initially in Phase 1."
Phase 2 will be a multiple-site trial, he said.
He's hopeful that the public will start to receive the vaccine by the end of the year.
"It's a bit early to say right now, but that's the plan," he said.
No volunteers have been given the shot yet, but a representative from VIDO said trials will begin soon.
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