Groundbreaking vaccine co-developed by U of S VIDO approved to protect water and food supply from E.coli O157:H7 contamination

Jan 8, 2007

A groundbreaking vaccine for cattle that will protect water and food supplies from the toxic E. coli O157:H7 bacteria has been approved for release in Canada, thanks to a research program that began at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“This makes Canada the first country in the world to have access to a vaccine for control of E. coli O157:H7,” said VIDO Director Lorne Babiuk.

The vaccine is the first to be released from VIDO’s food safety program, which aims to protect human health through advanced animal health treatments. Studies show the new vaccine greatly reduces the amount of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria shed by cattle into their environment. This in turn lessens the chances of contamination of water supplies, and helps ensure greater safety of food products destined for grocery shelves.

Last month, the vaccine received the go-ahead from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to be distributed to Canadian veterinarians. Ontario-based Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. is commercializing the vaccine.

Based on a discovery by UBC researcher Brett Finlay, the vaccine is derived from several novel bacterial proteins the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria need to infect the intestine.

Andrew Potter, VIDO’s Associate Director (Research) spearheaded the transformation of this technology into a vaccine. The vaccine works by preventing attachment of the bacteria to the intestinal surface of cattle, so the bacteria can’t remain in the intestine.

With the success of this vaccine, which is specific to the deadly O157:H7 strain and its close relatives, VIDO is now setting its sights on other closely related bacteria that produce a similar toxin. In addition, proteins similar to those upon which this vaccine is based are associated with other food-borne bacteria such as Salmonella and other E. coli strains. This points to opportunities for new vaccines against these threats.

VIDO’s food safety program includes a large team of scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and technicians working to develop new vaccines, specifically against Salmonella enteritidisand Campylobacter jejuni bacteria, to improve the safety of food and water.

VIDO’s capacity to respond to emerging pathogens such as BSE and avian influenza will be profoundly enhanced by the $110 million International Vaccine Centre, a Biosafety Level 3 facility slated to begin construction in 2007.

In addition to Bioniche and UBC, the Alberta Research Council collaborated on the development of the vaccine. Many funders supported the work, including the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canada Beef Industry Development Fund and the Canadian Bacterial Diseases Network of Centres of Excellence. The scientists leading the VIDO work, Potter and Wolfgang Koester, are Bioniche/NSERC Industrial Research Chairs.


  • The World Health Organization estimates that foodborne illness will affect up to 30 per cent of the population of developed countries. In the U.S., there are an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease every year.
  • U.S. statistics indicate that approximately 31 per cent of deaths caused by foodborne illness are due to Salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.4 million people get sick from Salmonella in the United States each year, with about 400 deaths.
  • Three per cent of food-related deaths in the U.S. are caused by E. coli. In the U.S. alone, E. coli O157 contamination causes an estimated 73,480 illnesses a year. The O157:H7 strain caused the 2000 outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario which killed several people and made hundreds ill.
  • An additional 28 per cent of food-related deaths in the U.S. are caused by Listeria bacteria and five per cent by Campylobacter bacteria.

VIDO ( is a world leader in the research and development of vaccine and immunotherapeutic technologies for livestock and humans. VIDO is a non-profit organization owned by the University of Saskatchewan. It collaborates extensively with external institutes and companies and provides a rich training environment.