VIDO receives significant CIHR support for research into emerging coronaviruses

Aug 2, 2023

Over the last 20 years, three known pathogenic coronaviruses have emerged in humans (SARS-CoV in 2003, MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019) causing significant morbidity and mortality.

The frequency of these outbreaks/pandemics, and their impact on human health, highlights the need for continued research into tools that protect against current and future coronaviruses. Towards this aim, VIDO scientists have received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Spring 2023 competition on the following projects:

Immunity and broadly protective next generation vaccines

Immune protection generated from coronavirus infection is short lived, and currently available vaccines offer reduced protection against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. We need new tools that provide protection from currently circulating coronaviruses and future coronaviruses that could spillover (zoonotic) and cause a new pandemic.

Next generation pan-coronavirus vaccines aim to protect against several coronaviruses at once over a longer period. However, the mechanisms that drive broad protection and immune longevity for coronaviruses are not well understood.

With $906,526 in new support from CIHR, Dr. Alyson Kelvin will help address these knowledge gaps and identify parts of the virus that could stimulate a cross-protective response. This knowledge will be used to develop potential tests or diagnostics to screen for broad protection. This will support the optimization of pan-sarbecovirus (the viral subgenus containing SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2) vaccine candidates that are in development at VIDO, partially supported by Dr. Kelvin’s CIHR-CEPI Leadership award.

The work will be in collaboration with Drs. Qiang Liu, Antonio Facciuolo (VIDO), and Peter Pioli (USask College of Medicine).

A broadly protective intranasal RNA vaccine

mRNA vaccines have emerged as powerful tools against SARS-CoV-2. To generate broader protection against future high impact or zoonotic coronaviruses Dr. Arinjay Banerjee is collaborating with Dr. Bowen Li (University of Toronto) to develop an intranasal circular RNA vaccine.

With CIHR funding of $879,750, Drs. Li and Banerjee will design vaccine candidates that mount strong mucosal immune responses and facilitate the development of broadly protective vaccines against emerging zoonotic respiratory pathogens.

The vaccines will use a novel nanoparticle delivery technology to protect and deliver antigens from multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and MERS-CoV. Challenge studies will be completed in VIDO’s containment level 3 facility to assess efficacy of the vaccines in preventing disease.

Understanding the role accessory proteins in SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis

Finally, Dr. Darryl Falzarano will continue collaborations with Dr. Joyce Wilson from USask’s College of Medicine. Willson is leading a project to understand the key differences between SARS-CoV-2 variants and how certain proteins impact virus replication and transmission.


Click to read more from USask about the recent CIHR funding.