InterVac weathers market pressure and wins final approval

Dec 6, 2007

Faced with unprecedented market escalation, the University of Saskatchewan board of governors has confirmed a revised $140-million final construction budget for the International Vaccine Centre (InterVac), the largest investment to date in vaccine research in Canada.

The board has given final approval to the design, construction schedule and revised capital budget for the new lab which has seen a $30-million cost hike entirely due to the heated construction market. Construction tenders have now been accepted.

“This is a momentous decision for the U of S that will reshape the landscape for infectious disease research in Canada, secure Saskatchewan’s international leadership in vaccine development, and provide new and unparalleled research, teaching and training opportunities for our faculty and students,” said U of S President Peter MacKinnon.

The new Level 3 lab—one of only a few in the world that can handle livestock—will play a key role in Canada’s pandemic planning strategy, significantly enhancing national capacity to develop and test new vaccines for both humans and animals.

The project will be built next to VIDO by 2010. Roughly 400 construction jobs will be created.

Since the sod-turning in June when the project was estimated to cost $110 million, inflation in Western Canadian construction has exceeded the university’s forecast, driving up InterVac tender results by $35 million. The university has shaved $5 million off the project cost through measures that do not adversely affect the scope, safety or science that can be conducted, bringing the price tag down to $140 million.

Funding commitments to date total $121.4 million, including a recent $10.8-million one-time only, non-program-related commitment from the Saskatchewan government. That leaves a shortfall of $18.6 million which the university is confident can be secured through continuing approaches to federal and provincial governments, the private sector and foundations.

“We are very grateful for the Province's quick response in committing an additional $10.8 million, and we have received encouraging signals from potential partners for the remainder,” said MacKinnon.

“Over the past year, this project has experienced several market-related cost increases yet our partners have remained steadfastly committed to the vision and to a desire to ensure InterVac’s success within Saskatoon’s unique science cluster.”

Funding to date for the project comes from the Government of Canada ($49 million), the Canada Foundation for Innovation ($32.5 million), the Government of Saskatchewan ($35.5 million), the U of S ($4.15 million), and the City of Saskatoon ($250,000).

Though U of S is contributing a small percentage of construction costs, InterVac will enormously benefit the U of S as a whole, MacKinnon stressed. Among the benefits:

  • The state-of-the-art lab has the potential to expand U of S research by orders of magnitude and increase learning opportunities for students.
  • As one of only two facilities in Canada that can train students in the use of a Containment Level 3 lab of this scope, InterVac will provide rare training opportunities for students in areas such as veterinary medicine, medicine, engineering, toxicology, and the new School of Public Health’s vaccinology program. Already two new related graduate programs – one in public health and the other in vaccinology and immunotherapeutics – have been approved.
  • U of S researchers will now be able to apply for grants that they couldn’t get previously because the work required access to Level 3 labs. Already eight faculty positions in a variety of departments have been identified for major use of InterVac over the next five to 10 years.
  • Operating with VIDO (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization) as one organization under a single director in the new School of Public Health, InterVac will contribute to the U of S reputation as a centre of excellence for infectious disease research and vaccine development, which will in turn help retain and attract top-notch faculty. The student learning experience will be enhanced by visiting international researchers.
  • With both InterVac and the Canadian Light Source, U of S will be home to two of the largest science projects in Canada.

As the largest vaccine research centre in Canada, InterVac researchers will develop new vaccines and new methods of delivering vaccines against diseases that may include tuberculosis, hepatitis C, SARS, HIV, and avian influenza. It will save lives and help reduce health care costs through new vaccines for infectious diseases.

InterVac will be integral to the work of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and other research teams both nationally and internationally.