Saskatoon

VIDO-InterVac awarded $1 million to develop coronavirus vaccine

A University of Saskatchewan research team and scientists from across the country have been awarded $1 million dollars to develop animal models and test vaccine candidates to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Coronavirus already growing, vaccine development underway, but more tests will be needed

Scientists work in VIDO-InterVac's (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre) containment level 3 laboratory, where the organization is currently researching a vaccine for novel coronavirus, at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. (David Stobbe/VIDO-InterVac/University of Saskatchewan/Reuters)

A University of Saskatchewan research team and scientists from across the country have been awarded $1 million over two years to develop animal models and test vaccine candidates to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

The project is being led by the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), and is part of a rapid research funding initiative, designed to contribute to efforts to contain COVID-19. 

Volker Gerdts, director of VIDO-InterVac, said a race is underway to find the best animal for replicating the disease. 

"Is it mice, hamsters, or ferrets? Whichever model works best is the one we're going to use," he said in a statement provided by the university. 

"Once the model is developed, we will then be able to test our vaccine candidates for effectiveness." 

He said the virus is already being grown in VIDO-InterVac labs and the process of developing an animal model is already underway. The lab has already infected some ferrets with COVID-19.

The lab's vaccine is also already being generated; Gerdts said with the money in hand, the lab can now begin testing the vaccine on animals and study the safety of the vaccine.

He said once the vaccine has passed safety tests on animals, it will need to be studied in humans.

Researchers also hope to better understand issues like transmission between animals, impact of age on disease and susceptibility of agricultural animals like chickens or pigs. 

"The goal is to develop a disease in these animals that is similar to humans, so that we then can use that as a read-out to show that our vaccine works, or it doesn't," Gerdts told CBC News.

The 12-member team is led by Darryl Falzarano. He said the ultimate goal of the project is to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine that provides protection against multiple coronaviruses.

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