The National Research Council of Canada and USask’s VIDO-InterVac collaborate to advance development of vaccine against COVID-19

News release

Key research and development organizations to leverage Canadian expertise and technologies in battle against COVID-19

May 12, 2020 – Montréal, Quebec and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) today announced a collaboration to work together to accelerate the development and production of a candidate COVID-19 antigen in mammalian cells.

The antigen is a key component of a vaccine against COVID-19. Vaccines work by providing the human immune system with a sneak peek at a virus, in advance of possible infection. This allows the immune system time to recognize the threat and prepare antibodies, so that it’s ready when it encounters the actual virus. VIDO-InterVac has identified a recombinant protein antigen that will serve as a primary part of a vaccine candidate against COVID-19.

The antigen against COVID-19 has been produced at laboratory scale, and animal studies at VIDO-InterVac are ongoing to determine the effectiveness of the laboratory-scale antigen. The NRC will now explore the use of its proprietary HEK293 mammalian cells to develop a robust and efficient process to scale up production of the vaccine antigen for future pre-clinical and clinical studies.


“Now more than ever, the NRC is working to advance important collaborations to ensure that we can contribute to global efforts against this pandemic. We’re very happy to be able to assist VIDO-InterVac in advancing the development of their candidate vaccine against COVID-19 by applying our proven expertise in scale-up vaccine production.”

— Iain Stewart, President, National Research Council of Canada

“In these times it’s vital for Canadians to work together to protect our health and safety, while also contributing to broader international efforts. We are proud that our scientists at VIDO-InterVac – a world leader in developing vaccines against infectious diseases – are working with the National Research Council and other partners around the world to advance our efforts in combatting the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

— Peter Stoicheff, President, University of Saskatchewan

Quick facts

  • SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Scientists at VIDO-InterVac have identified a candidate antigen and are testing the efficacy of the candidate in a vaccine against the virus. VIDO-InterVac was one of the first organizations in the world to develop an effective pre-clinical animal model for testing medicines against COVID-19.

  • A cell line consists of a population of living cells that are descended from a single cell, which allow for the reproduction of large numbers of cells that have a uniform and known genetic makeup. The NRC has developed a proprietary version of the HEK293 mammalian cell line, which has specific properties that make it useful for the production of biologic medicines, such as VIDO-InterVac's candidate antigen.

  • In collaboration with various partners, the NRC's HEK293 cell line has previously been used for the production of numerous biologics, including vaccines that have been proven in clinical trials and subsequently licensed for distribution.

Associated links


Media Relations 
National Research Council of Canada

Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac)
University of Saskatchewan

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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 VIDO-InterVac

The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO-InterVac) is a world leader in developing vaccines and technologies to combat infectious diseases. To strengthen Canada’s role in responding to infectious diseases, VIDO-InterVac works with partners nationally and internationally to study human and animal pathogens and develop solutions. With ~170 multidisciplinary personnel, over $200 million in containment infrastructure, and more than four decades of experience, we develop vaccines and technologies that protect health.

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