Saskatchewan lab joins global effort to develop coronavirus vaccine

The deadly virus, linked to central Chinese city of Wuhan, has been connected to 26 deaths

As Canadian public health agencies prepare to deal with a new viral illness, a specialized lab in Saskatoon is using its research on different strains of the coronavirus to help develop a vaccine.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre, also known as VIDO-InterVac, has received permission from the Public Health Agency of Canada to focus on the threat.

“People need to work together and collaborate and share the information,” said its executive director, Volker Gerdts.

The deadly coronavirus, first linked to a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has been connected to 26 deaths and infections in hundreds of people. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States have each reported at least one case of the virus.

There have been no confirmed cases in Canada and officials say the risk of an outbreak remains low.

About five or six people in Canada are being monitored, including those with a travel history to the Wuhan area and with symptoms of the illness. Respiratory samples are being sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

“Emerging diseases arrive and, because of all the travel we do and the connectiveness we have right now, the world becomes smaller and smaller and there’s a better chance for these pathogens to quickly spread around the globe,” Gerdts said.

ALSO READ: B.C. asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ when screening for coronavirus

The Saskatchewan lab was developed in the wake of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2003 to ensure that Canada could be prepared for emerging disease and illness, he added.

Researchers there have spent a significant amount of time focusing on pathogens like coronaviruses. Gerdts said they’ve successfully developed a vaccine for coronavirus strains in cattle and pigs.

“We have expertise in working with them.”

While coronaviruses are relatively small, they are known for mutating and jumping species, which is why they cause so many problems.

Gerdts explained the coronavirus strain in pigs had not been seen in North America until two years ago. But within a year it had affected 10 million of the animals.

Colleagues in China have made the outbreak-specific coronavirus genome sequence available to researchers around the world, Gerdts said. His lab is now using it to hopefully find a way to help.

The lab also has clearance to handle samples of the pathogen and is attempting to get samples from China or the U.S. If that’s not possible, it will order synthetic gene fragments.

The goal is to have the first vaccine candidates ready for testing in animals within six to eight weeks, Gerdts said. But human trials are at least a year away.

Gerdts said Canada has shown a leading role in developing vaccines, including one for the Ebola virus, and there’s a need to have more capacity to manufacture them here.

If his lab had a manufacturing facility that he’s been advocating for, he said production of a coronavirus vaccine for human testing could happen quicker.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Canadian research is part of a global effort and will be shared with the World Health Organization.

“We currently do not have a specific vaccine against this novel coronavirus,” she said. “With a global effort on preparedness, I think that’s something that we need to strive for.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Construction snafu delays Arrow Lakes hospital renos

Arrow Lakes Hospital rebuild now expected to be finished this spring

New ‘hub’ model takes regional approach to doctor recruitment in West Kootenay

Kootenay-Boundary a provincial leader in effectively attracting doctors to work here

Nakusp taking part in project to reduce wildfire risks

Trust provides over $1 million to protect communities

Permitting process pushes back completion for Slocan fibre-optic line

Work may not be done until summer 2021, more than a year after initial completion date

New ‘hub’ model takes regional approach to doctor recruitment in West Kootenay

Kootenay-Boundary a provincial leader in effectively attracting doctors to work here

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games wrap up in Fort St. John as torch passes to Maple Ridge

More than 1,000 athletes competed in the 2020 BC Winter Games

Still six cases of COVID-19 in B.C. despite reports of Air Canada passenger: ministry

Health ministry wouldn’t comment on specific flight routes

Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government

Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

B.C. money laundering inquiry to begin amid hopes for answers, accountability

Eby argued that most B.C. residents already know the previous government, at best, turned a blind eye

Blockades remain in place as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs returning to B.C.

Hereditary Chief Woos said they are ready to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the B.C.

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Most Read