Saskatoon

Potential COVID-19 vaccine clears 'major milestone': Sask. researchers

The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) says a COVID-19 vaccine candidate it has developed has cleared a "major milestone" in moving toward human clinical trials.

Research centre says candidate vaccine induced a 'strong immune response' in ferrets

Part of the team of COVID-19 vaccine researchers at the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac). (University of Saskatchewan)

A potential COVID-19 vaccine has achieved a "major milestone" in moving toward human clinical trials, according to researchers in Saskatchewan.

The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) said Monday that a vaccine candidate it has developed has proven to be "highly effective" in pre-clinical trials in ferrets.

VIDO-InterVac said the ferrets received two immunizations prior to being exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The potential vaccine induced a strong immune response, generated neutralizing antibodies and decreased viral infection in the upper respiratory tract to "almost undetectable levels", the centre said.

A potential COVID-19 vaccine has achieved a 'major milestone' in moving towards human clinical trials, according to project leader Dr. Darryl Falzarano. He says the team believes the outcome is successful enough to move onto the next stage. 4:29

It said several more trials are planned over the next few months, including safety studies to prepare for human clinical trials this fall.

Centre director Dr. Volker Gerdts said it is likely this candidate will be a vaccine one day. 

"Oh, it's very likely," he said. "We purposely chose a technology that is well-known, well-established and has a proven track record."

Gerdts said he hopes the vaccine will be ready under emergency authorization in the first half of 2021 for populations in the highest need.

"We honestly don't know right now," he said.

Targeted populations could include front-line health-care workers or the elderly, he said. The general public would likely have to wait longer for the vaccine.

"I think it's going to take a little bit longer than that," he said. "Probably the summer of next year."

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan say early tests on a COVID-19 vaccine was effective in ferrets, which paves the way for a clinical trial. 2:04

The vaccine candidate was developed from the team's previous research on other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, the centre said.

VIDO-InterVac is also working on a vaccine manufacturing facility that will be GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified to support vaccine production capacity in Canada, it said.

In addition to COVID-19 vaccine development, it is working with research groups around the world to test antivirals and therapeutics against COVID-19.

Since early March, VIDO-InterVac has been awarded more than $50 million in federal and provincial funding for COVID-19-related research.

"That's been very helpful," Gerdts said of the funding. "It allows us to essentially do all of these things in parallel, so we don't have to wait until one activity is completed."

The centre said it was the first lab in Canada to isolate SARS-CoV-2 and the first lab in the country to establish an animal model for testing vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics.

About the Author

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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