Video: Emerging coronavirus research at VIDO
Dec 15, 2020
I am Darryl Falzarano, I’m a research scientist at VIDO-InterVac. My lab works on emerging coronaviruses. We spent the last five years working on MERS coronavirus trying to develop a vaccine targeted for use in camels to prevent transmission from camels to humans, and now we work on SARS coronavirus 2 — this time targeting vaccines for humans, and we spend a lot of our efforts working on preclinical models and developing those so we can assess that vaccine prior to moving into humans.
One of the things we do is take a one-health approach, for example with MERS coronavirus, camels are a reservoir of the virus, but don’t actually suffer any disease — whereas when they pass it to humans you have a 33% case fatality rate. We thought the most efficient way to make a vaccine there was to target the actual camels and not the people and so we have been working to develop a vaccine suitable for use in camels to prevent transmission to humans and eliminate MERS that way.
We were the first lab in Canada to isolate SARS-CoV-2 from a clinical sample. That gave us a big jump start in getting our research going. That allowed us to develop hamster and ferret models as well as sharing that virus with other labs across Canada so they could start their research as well. Prior to that we had already started to work on a vaccine, because you don’t require virus to actually do that, but once our vaccine was made and animals were vaccinated we had a challenge virus and a challenge animal model ready to go allowing us to proceed quickly in the early pre-clinical stages.
We’ve known that the possibility of a pandemic from a new virus has existed for a long time — we’ve seen little bits of it, for example in 2009 with H1N1 but the severity wasn’t anywhere near what it is with COVID-19. I think it just highlights the need to continue working in areas of emerging viruses even when they might not seem to pose a big threat at the moment. That doesn’t mean that in the future they won’t or that a new virus that we don’t even know about yet will emerge.