Province pledges conditional $15M for pandemic research at Sask. lab
SASKATOON -- A proposal to establish a world-class research lab in Saskatchewan that might prove valuable during future pandemics could get a $15 million boost from the province.
The University of Saskatchewan-based Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) has been hard at work on its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which recently entered human clinical trials.
At the same time the lab has been developing its vaccine candidate, its CEO Volker Gerdts has also been spearheading an effort to bring a "Level 4" containment lab to the facility in an effort to become "Canada's Centre for Pandemic Research."
On Tuesday the Government of Saskatchewan pledged $15 million towards the effort, providing the federal government kicks in the $45 million requested by VIDO-Intervac for the project.
The lab's ask is not without precedent, shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government pledged $23 million towards its coronavirus work.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also publicly highlighted the lab's work.
"COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of Canada being a leader in research, development and production of new vaccines," Premier Scott Moe said in a news release.
"The place that should happen is right here in Saskatchewan"
Moe has already formally written to the federal government in support of VIDO-InterVac's funding request.
The proposed pandemic research centre would effectively double Canada's capacity for researchers to handle hazardous contagions such as Ebola.
The only other Level 4 lab in Canada is located at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
The centre would “significantly reduce the time required to advance vaccine development to human clinical trials," the province said in its news release.
In a news conference, Gerdts said the government cash would allow the agency to upgrade its containment space and build a new animal facility to be able to work with those animals from which new diseases emerge.
“That includes bats, reptiles, insects, all these exotic species from which we see these pathogens jump into humans, essentially, and VIDA has a bit of a track record as you know, we were the first in Canada to isolate the virus. We were the first in Canada to have an animal model established that allows us to test vaccines and antivirals and drugs and so on.
He said the facility "will focus both on human diseases as well as animal diseases, and thus have a huge impact on our lives, and that of our animals."
According to the province, the money would be in addition to the $4.2 million it already earmarked to help the lab develop its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and build a manufacturing facility that will be completed later this year.
The City of Saskatoon has also tentatively committed to help fund VIDO-InterVac's pandemic research centre aspirations, providing the province and federal government contributions happen.
The first doses of the VIDO-InterVac candidate were administered to volunteers at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax, earlier this month.
Gerdts previously told CTV News he believes the VIDO-InterVac candidate may offer "better" protection against variant coronavirus strains and would not require "complicated storage."
--More details to come.