SASKATOON -- During a committee meeting Tuesday, city councillors gave the green light for a plan to help fund a proposed pandemic research centre based in Saskatoon.

However, the request will require formal city council approval upon its inclusion in a future budget.

While researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) are hard at work on a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine, its leadership team is looking towards the future: a proposed research centre that could play a valuable role in responding to future pandemics.

VIDO is hoping to build a Containment Level 4 (CL4) laboratory, which would effectively double Canada's capacity for dealing with pathogens such as the Ebola virus, according to a city report prepared in advance of the meeting.

There is only one other CL4 facility in Canada, the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, the report said.

While the province and the federal government would likely shoulder the bulk of the cost for building the proposed facility, in November the city was asked to pitch in $250,000 for the project.

While research facilities are not typically the domain of the city when it comes to funding, the request is not without precedent.

According to the report, in 1999 the city kicked in $2.5 million for another world-class research facility based in Saskatoon, the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron.

The city also has provided funding in the past to VIDO, in 2004 for the construction of its International Vaccine Centre.

In addition to the positive benefits of vaccines in general, the report also highlights the potential economic spinoff that could from attracting highly-skilled workers to the city.

The funding request was reviewed during a meeting of the city's Governance and Priorities Committee.

Work at VIDO is already underway to build a manufacturing facility that could make as many 40 million vaccine doses annually.

The funding request could be included in the 2022, 2023 edition of the city's multi-year budget, but likely only if VIDO is successful in obtaining enough money from other levels of government to make its pandemic research centre a reality.  

During the committee meeting, Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer asked a question he said he has been hearing from the public.

“In people’s minds, they are asking why are we investing in a vaccine when the rest of the world is ahead. And their response is, we would have been among the first in the world to have this.”