SASKATOON -- After months of work towards the production of a vaccine for COVID-19, Saskatoon based ZYUS Life Sciences says they’re closer after a series of breakthroughs.

They have been working with plants, specifically the tobacco plant, to find a way to produce the protein necessary in creating the vaccine.

ZYUS president and CEO Brent Zettl said that after a few recent early breakthroughs things are moving along, putting them in a position to be ready for animal trials sometime in the early fall.

“The antibodies confirmed that they reacted with this protein in a way that shows that it’s actually functional. The ‘Ah ha’ moment was the proof of concept then the preliminary proof of function," Zettl told CTV.

ZYUS have been working with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), exchanging information and getting ready to hand off their work for the next stages.

"The next step is to polish the material to get it to a clinical grade material for pre-clinical work. VIDO will take it and they’ll actually add what is called an adjuvant to it and put it into the first animal model starting with is mice, and that timing is probably early fall," Zettl said.

Zettl said that the practice of using plants for vaccine development is still fairly uncommon, with many opting for animal or egg systems.

"It’s more of the next generation of what could be done. There’s an advantage to using plants which includes scaling is a little quicker, and plants are also really good at replicating the compound of interest," Zettl said.

Zattl has been taking note of advancements around the world when it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, and said that seeing others succeed brings him and his team hope. Despite being a bit behind other labs in the world, Zettl is confident their work can be used.

"There’s about 130 companies working towards a vaccine right now in their respective countries. We know that a lot of them are already in human trials, so were a little late to the game in terms of what we’re trying to do," Zettl said.

"At the same time ultimately on a scale up, or a macro-scale, a plant-based system would be potentially less expensive going forward, but also really at its heart is now were opening up a channel, so to speak, so if there’s something else in the future we could then have a ready-made platform."

Zettl said he is proud of all the employees at ZYUS, as they’ve been putting in extended hours and working weekends during a pandemic to get closer to producing a vaccine.