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

Playgrounds remain closed in South Okanagan and Similkameen

Communities, school districts and Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen have all shut facilities

LETTER: Flights from infected countries should be banned

There is no excuse to allow those from infected countries to keep coming to B.C.

Penticton RCMP, Fire Department, BCEHS salute hospital workers

“You’re awesome” and “Thank you” say Penticton first responders, passing by emergency entrance

UPDATE: 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

Social media ‘prank’ leads to criminal investigation in Osoyoos

Post claims individuals will be canvassing door to door seeking housing for seasonal workers

First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

Health-care workers, seniors, Indigenous Peoples some of people most at risk, health officials say

Gleaners give surplus produce, North Okanagan gratefully fed

Trailer full of goods scooped by community amid COVID-19

Call before you dig into spring projects during isolation: BC 1 Call

BC 1 Call gives free checks for utilities in the area of a desired outdoor project

B.C.’s intersection speed cameras putting more tickets in the mail

One Nanaimo location delayed after speed limit reduced

Friends of Dorothy’s drag queens deliver food in support of Kelowna’s first responders

The lounge is donating $5 from every order to first responders

Coquihalla closed in both directions, medevac to land

DriveBC says drivers should expect delays of up to one hour

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

Salmon Arm opens respiratory clinic in response to COVID-19

Clinic will not be a walk-in centre, residents must call family doctor or nurse practioner first

High cost, limited coverage for asthma medicine a concern during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man says he skips puffs to save money, but others have it worse

Most Read