SASKATOON -- After initial work began on the human trial phase of its vaccine research in January, a Saskatoon-based lab is finally set to deliver shots of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate into the arms of volunteers.

Late last year, the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) received Health Canada approval to move into human trials.

Now 108 volunteers have been selected to participate in a placebo-controlled study at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax.

“We are excited to start clinical trials,” VIDO-InterVac director Dr. Volker Gerdts said in a university news release. 

“Our team has worked hard to advance the development of this vaccine to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The lab's COVAC-2 candidate is a "subunit" vaccine that relies on purified viral proteins and would not require the ultra-cold storage of the mRNA-based Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

It is created using the same technique as vaccines commonly given to prevent diphtheria and whooping cough.

Gerdts also said he believes the VIDO-InterVac vaccine candidate may offer "better" protection against variant coronavirus strains.

The COVAC-2 trial is a combined Phase 1/Phase 2 study,meaning successful data from the trial's first phase will allow the lab to quickly expand its testing to hundreds of volunteers across Canada.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted efforts underway at VIDO-InterVac to build a vaccine manufacturing facility that could make as many as 40 million doses annually.

The facility, built with a mix of federal and provincial funding, is expected to be up and running by early 2022.

“As we continue the fight against COVID-19, domestic vaccine development and production have never been more important,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said in the release. 

“VIDO is a world-class organization and our government is proud to continue to support their work as they mark this significant milestone.”