When COVID-19 spread globally, Canada, and the rest of the world, was not yet ready to respond with its own vaccine.
Today, we are better prepared to fight the next pandemic.
PrairiesCan (formerly Western Economic Diversification Canada) has been supporting the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) since its early days in the 1990s. Back then, it was working with veterinary vaccines. A lot of great work has continued in the decades since to help defend Canadians against the next emerging human or animal infectious disease. PrairiesCan has been working with VIDO to that end.
VIDO leaders Volker Gerdts and Paul Hodgson laid out their challenge in 2019 in Research Money, a prominent innovation research publication:
“Scientists from across the country currently have priority access to over $200 million in containment infrastructure at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) in Saskatoon—infrastructure that supports vaccine development for human and animal infectious diseases like tuberculosis, Zika, and influenza. The next step is ensuring that the world-leading vaccine research done across Canada has a cost-effective development pathway towards commercialization.”
In other words, VIDO was already planning for future pandemics. It was getting ready to support Canadian vaccine innovation. And VIDO would help bring new vaccines to market.
Even before COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic, VIDO quickly responded. It was the first in Canada to:
- isolate the virus that causes COVID-19
- develop an animal model of the disease (to test new medicines against COVID-19)
- test a vaccine candidate
VIDO used this expertise to engage with more than 200 organizations around the world to help advance the development of other vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics. All this while advancing its own COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
COVAC-2 is in Phase 2 clinical trials and will also be tested in Canada as a ‘booster’ vaccine. PrairiesCan substantially supported the development of VIDO’s COVID vaccines.
As COVID-19 becomes endemic and new infectious diseases emerge, VIDO’s role as Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research will continue to grow.
As part of this, VIDO is adding new animal housing and “level 4” containment capacity that will enable it to work with all infectious diseases. The only other level 4 containment labs in Canada are at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg. In June 2022, VIDO celebrated completion of the Vaccine Development Centre, a new manufacturing facility where vaccines can be made on-site. PrairiesCan funded the first stage of the Vaccine Development Centre in 2018, and has continued to fund it since then.
“The support from PrairiesCan has been critical in making VIDO one of the only organizations in the world that can drive discovery research towards commercial development of human and animal vaccines, including those that require a higher level of containment,” said director and CEO Dr. Volker Gerdts. “This will help protect humans and animals from future emerging infectious diseases.”
Vaccines for animals
While the limelight for the past 2 years has been on COVID-19 research, VIDO has continued working on vaccines for animals. Among its current projects is a bid to tackle the global spread of African swine fever (ASF). This disease has killed millions of pigs worldwide and could devastate Canada’s pork industry. VIDO is also developing an oral vaccine for chronic wasting disease (CWD). This disease is similar to mad cow disease, and infects mostly species in the deer family. Infectious disease remains a major cause of loss in livestock production.
Human and animal health is linked. “It has been stated that about 70% of the pathogens that affect humans have come from animals. So, if we can protect animals from these diseases, we can help protect ourselves,” explains Dr. Trina Racine, director of vaccine development at VIDO.
Decades of hard work has made VIDO a world-class facility in the heart of the Prairies. The work is enabled by support from all levels of government, the livestock industry, foundations, human and animal health companies, and private donors. Canada has never been better prepared to fight the next epidemic or pandemic we will have to face.
Text on screen: PrairiesCan has been funding vaccine research at the University of Saskatchewan since the 1990s.
NARRATOR (voiceover) When the next epidemic or pandemic strikes Canada will be ready to make its own vaccines.
Since the 1990s, PrairiesCan has been funding VIDO - the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan.
Back then, VIDO focused only on veterinary vaccines. Now, it works on both animal and human infectious diseases.
Text on screen: Not-so-fun fact: 70% of pathogens in humans come from animals.
NARRATOR (voiceover) With new "level 4" containment capacity on the way and a new vaccine manufacturing centre, VIDO is ready to take on the deadliest diseases for both animals and humans.
In June of 2022, VIDO's Vaccine Development Centre opened so that we can research, develop and make vaccines right here in Canada – in Saskatchewan.
Prairies Economic Development Canada Wordmark appears on screen.
Animated Canada Wordmark appears on screen.