How a lab in Sask. that focuses on animals became Canada’s $23M hope for a COVID-19 vaccine
In the global race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government announced Monday it is pumping $23 million into an academic research lab in Saskatchewan.
The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan started as a modest veterinary lab in 1975. But it has evolved into a world class facility that the Trudeau government is betting can develop a vaccine to stop the pandemic.
The Saskatoon lab already has a head start. It has been working on coronavirus vaccines, primarily for animals, for four decades, including successful vaccines for cattle and pigs.
Today, the vaccine centre is one of only a few high-level containment facilities in the world able to conduct research on a vaccine for COVID-19.
In a wide-ranging interview Friday, VIDO-InterVac research scientist Darryl Falzarano and associate director Paul Hodgson told CBC News that in the past, generating interest in funding research into a pan-coronavirus vaccine for humans has been a challenge.
While the focus is now on stopping COVID-19, Hodgson said finding a pan-coronavirus vaccine is their “vision statement,” much like a universal flu vaccine has been a goal of scientists for decades.
“That’s something we’ve never been able to get funding for,” said Falzarano.
But that has all changed, at least for the foreseeable future. Today, there are 160 people working at the lab — and up to 30 per cent of them are working on a coronavirus vaccine.
The Public Health Agency of Canada gave VIDO-InterVac the green light to start researching a vaccine for humans in late January. Researchers isolated the virus from a sample and have since grown the virus in a cell culture and are now testing a vaccine candidate in animals.
One of the questions Hodgson says he gets asked frequently these days is, “Why can’t you do a vaccine faster?”
The answer is complicated.