The National Research Council of Canada and CanSino Biologics Inc. announce collaboration to advance vaccine against COVID-19

News release

One of only a handful of vaccine candidates currently in human clinical trials in the world to begin initial evaluation in Canada

May 12, 2020 – Montréal, Quebec – National Research Council of Canada

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) today announced a collaboration with CanSino Biologics Inc. (CanSinoBIO) to advance bioprocessing and clinical development in Canada of a candidate vaccine against COVID-19.

Referred to as Ad5-nCoV, the vaccine candidate received Chinese regulatory approval earlier this year, allowing CanSino Biologics to move ahead with human clinical trials in China. It is one of only a handful of vaccine candidates in the world against COVID-19 so far approved for initial safety testing in humans, and was the first candidate vaccine to begin conducting Phase II human clinical trials.

The relationship between the NRC and CanSinoBIO was first established in 2013. The NRC’s HEK293-SF-3F6 cell line was later licensed to CanSinoBIO and used in the development of an approved vaccine against the Ebola virus. The new COVID-19 vaccine is also produced using HEK293-SF-3F6 cell lines that were designed and developed at the NRC. By bringing their respective technologies and expertise together to fight COVID-19, CanSino Biologics and the NRC are aiming to pave the way for future clinical trials in Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Immunization Research Network at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology. The vaccine is subject to approval by Health Canada, for which CanSinoBIO is in the process of filing a Clinical Trial Application (CTA).

This collaboration will allow the NRC to advance a scale-up production process for the vaccine candidate, using its proprietary HEK293-SF-3F6 cell line. As a preparatory step, the Government of Canada has already announced $44 million in funding to support upgrades to the NRC’s facilities in Montreal to enable compliance with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards, to ensure readiness for Canadian bioprocessing of potential vaccine candidates as they become available. 

*September 22, 2020: Please note that the original news release referred to the “NRC’s HEK 293 cell line” and has been updated to correctly specify the NRC’s HEK 293-SF-3F6 cell line. The original HEK 293 cell line was generated by Dr. Frank Graham as posted here: Foundations of discovery: honouring the work of Canadian researcher Dr. Frank Graham.


“This vaccine candidate holds great promise. Until such time as there is an effective vaccine for COVID-19, the virus will continue to disrupt all aspects of our society and economy. The NRC is proud of our ongoing partnership with CanSino Biologics, and we are working hard to achieve success in this vital new collaboration.” 

– Mr. Iain Stewart, President of the National Research Council of Canada

“We’ve been in a committed partnership with the NRC for almost a decade. It is perfect timing to leverage cutting-edge technology and resources from both sides that are critical to the development of Ad5-nCoV. We are in this global public health emergency together, and a collaborative engagement could be the shortcut to help win this race against novel coronavirus disease. CanSino Biologics has strong connections to Canada, and we’re proud to be building on past successes and continuing our ongoing partnership with the NRC to address health needs on a global scale.”

– Dr. Xuefeng Yu, Chairman and CEO of CanSino Biologics Inc.

Quick facts

  • The vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, was developed using technology from both China and Canada. It was co-developed by the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology (BIB) and CanSino Biologics Inc. using a genetically engineered replication-defective adenovirus type 5 vector to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is grown using living cells that were designed and developed at the National Research Council of Canada.

  • The National Research Council of Canada’s proprietary HEK293-SF-3F6 cell line has been used for the development of numerous biologics, including a previous collaboration with CanSino Biologics on the development of a vaccine against Ebola. To learn more about Dr. Frank Graham’s work on the HEK293 cell line, please visit Foundations of discovery: honouring the work of Canadian researcher Dr. Frank Graham.

  • The proposed development timeline for Ad5-nCoV is unprecedented. Generally, vaccines take anywhere from 5 to 15 years to develop.


Media Relations
National Research Council of Canada

Public Relations
CanSino Biologics Inc.
+86 22 58213666

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About the National Research Council of Canada

Founded in 1916, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is Canada's largest federal research and development organization. The NRC partners with Canadian industry to take research impacts from the lab to the marketplace. This market-driven focus is designed to shorten the time between early-stage research and development and commercialization, enhance people's lives and address some of the world's most pressing challenges.

About CanSino Biologics Inc. 

Incorporated in 2009, CanSino Biologics Inc. (CanSinoBIO, stock 6185.HK) is an innovative biopharmaceutical company dedicated to exploring the best solutions for the prevention of diseases through cutting-edge research & development, advanced manufacturing, and commercialization of innovative vaccine products for human use worldwide. 

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