VIDO-InterVac seeking funding to establish national centre for pandemic research in Saskatchewan

·3 min read

The VIDO-InterVac research facility in Saskatoon is seeking funding to upgrade its facility and become what it describes as a national centre for pandemic research.

The University of Saskatchewan facility for disease research has drawn increased national attention in 2020 for its efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. It is currently seeking approval to start human clinical trials in December.

VIDO-InterVac (short for Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization — International Vaccine Centre) is now proposing to upgrade its existing facility to become a national research centre.

It wants to build a new animal facility and upgrade the facility's Level 3 high-containment lab to a Level 4 lab — the highest level of biosecurity, which allows labs to work with the most serious and deadly human and animal diseases.

The upgrade to the new animal facility, meanwhile, would allow the researchers to work with a wider range of animals, such as exotic species and insects.

On Nov. 23, VIDO-InterVac director Volker Gerdts will make a presentation to the City of Saskatoon's governance and priorities committee to provide an update on its vaccine work and explain the expansion plan.

Gerdts said the presentation is not a request for funding from the city. Rather, he said it is part of an "awareness" campaign about the project to provide more information to potential funders.

The team has also made similar presentations to federal government groups.

"We want to present to them what we are doing at the moment and how VIDO is helping the country to deal with COVID-19," said Gerdts.

He said the centre would help gather expertise and knowledge to work in partnership with other facilities, such as the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, to prepare for emerging diseases.

"We don't want to compete, we want to be able to create these national centres that allow Canada to be better prepared," said Gerdts, adding that the facility would research treatments and medications as well as vaccines.

VIDO-InterVac is also currently in the process of building a vaccine manufacturing facility.

In an separate interview with CBC on Wednesday, Gerdts said the facility's vaccine candidate for COVID-19 is also edging closer to starting human clinical trials.

"We have a meeting with the regulators coming up now and we hope to get permission to start our Phase 1, Phase 2 trials in December of this year," said Gerdts.

In the past week, the drug companies Pfizer and Moderna have announced that their vaccine candidates appear to be 95 per cent and 94.5 per cent effective, respectively.

Both are among seven vaccine candidates the Canadian government has pre-ordered.

VIDO-InterVac is not yet on that list, but Gerdts said there is reason to continue working on more options like the Saskatchewan-developed vaccine.

He said although the efficacy of the front-running vaccines appears promising, many questions still remain.

"We don't know how long protection lasts, we don't know how often you have to be revaccinated, we don't know really how effective the storage of it is ... when Canadians will have access to it," said Gerdts.

"So there is still lots of questions that are unanswered at the moment. And I think it's wise for us to continue what we're doing."