Frequently Asked Questions: Becoming Canada's Centre for Pandemic Research

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization has some of the most advanced high containment research and development capacity in the world. To strengthen Canada’s preparedness for emerging infectious diseases, we are expanding our capabilities as we become Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research.

Why is infectious disease research important?

Emerging infectious diseases continually threaten the health of people and animals and impact the global economy. It is estimated that three pathogens emerge every year, and one of them will lead to a larger epidemic every three years. This ongoing threat underlines the need to be able to rapidly respond to these pathogens to limit their impact.

Why should this work be done at VIDO?

VIDO has a long history of safely conducting infectious disease research and developing vaccines and associated technologies. Starting in 1975 as the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization, VIDO now operates Canada’s largest and one of the most advanced containment facilities in the world. By leveraging our world-class infrastructure and expertise we can help prepare Canada for any new human or animal pathogen and help ensure a rapid response. This has been demonstrated historically by: 8 commercialized vaccines, 2 additional vaccines that have been licensed to companies for commercial development, 1 vaccine currently in human clinical trials and 1 more in clinical development.

What is Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research?

The Centre will help lead Canada’s response to emerging infectious diseases and help ensure Canadians are protected against future pandemics. As Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research VIDO will expand its capabilities over the next 3 years, including:

  • Establishing the Vaccine Development Centre, a containment level 3 capable biomanufacturing facility that meets good manufacturing practice requirements—one of only a few in the world.
  • Adding containment level 4 capacity to enable work with all infectious diseases.
  • Building a new animal facility capable of housing a wider range of animals to expand our preclinical research and development capacity.
  • Attracting new scientific talent to expand our expertise and providing training opportunities to develop the next generation of scientists, laboratory and animal care technicians.

This will enable us to research any pathogen and develop and manufacture vaccines and therapeutics.

What is “containment” in an infectious disease laboratory context?

“Containment” describes the safety measures, operational practices, facility design and equipment needed to ensure the scientific team, surrounding community, and the environment are safe when studying certain types of disease-causing organisms. There are four levels of containment— level 1 is the lowest and level 4 is the highest. In the United States, the equivalent term is “biosafety level”.

What is containment level 4 and who regulates this?

Containment level 4 (CL4) is the highest level and is required to work with Risk Group 4 (RG4) pathogens. Examples of RG4 pathogens include:

  • Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever nairovirus
  • Lassa virus
  • Nipah virus
  • Any new infectious disease with an undefined risk level

Both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada will license our CL4 capacity and regulate our work with RG4 pathogens.

How do you ensure safety?

Ensuring safety is our top priority. VIDO has an impeccable safety record spanning almost 50 years, including 10+ years of containment level 3 (CL3) operations. This includes strict administrative controls, rigorous biosafety training, state-of-the-art equipment, and specifically engineered building features that protect VIDO’s personnel and the surrounding community.

Preventative maintenance is a key element in ensuring optimal facility operations. All mechanical systems include redundant capacity. This means that each key operational system has at least one backup.

All air entering and exiting the facility passes through a series of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove the pathogens. All waste is sterilized before leaving the facility.

In addition, facility access is highly restricted and controlled. There are multiple monitoring cameras, on-site security and biometric scanning systems. All personnel and visiting scientists undergo personal background checks and enhanced reliability screening before they are granted access to restricted areas.

Who do I contact if I have questions about the Centre?

VIDO is conducting a community consultation, including a series of focus groups with community organizations and public discussion boards to inform and gain feedback.

In addition, an independent Community Liaison Committee (CLC) is established and includes key leaders in the local community. The CLC helps ensure open and transparent communication on safety.

You can contact VIDO or members of the Community Liaison Committee (CLC) with questions.


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