VIDO Tech Report: VIDO-developed SARS vaccine candidates fast-tracked to testing

May 5, 2004

Promising new SARS vaccine candidates developed in part by the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) have entered testing, just 14 months after the disease emerged and triggered a global health crisis.

“These vaccine prototypes represent a year of dramatic, rapid progress toward solutions for SARS, which remains a major global human health threat,” says Dr. Lorne Babiuk, VIDO Director. “VIDO’s experience and expertise in vaccine development and in model systems has been a crucial factor in achieving this quick response.”

The vaccine project is a collaboration among VIDO, McMaster University, the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC). Funding for the program comes in part from the SARS Accelerated Vaccine Initiative (SAVI), a program based on $2.6 million in seed funding from the British Columbia government and operated with administrative and leadership support from the BCCDC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and UBC.

“The goal of SAVI is to develop an effective and safe SARS vaccine as quickly as possible,” says Dr. Raymond See, Program Director, Vaccine Development, for SAVI. “The progress at VIDO is a good example of how this can be achieved. Developing a new vaccine usually takes years. However, by adopting an emergency-management model, VIDO and other institutions working with SAVI are getting to the testing stage in a matter of months, rather than years.”

Two prototype vaccines for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) are currently being tested and fine-tuned in collaboration with VIDO. One, which employs an adenovirus vector, was developed by McMaster University and was selected in part for its power to target the respiratory system and produce a strong immune response. The second is a conventional killed SARS vaccine, developed by BCCDC/UBC in collaboration with VIDO. The candidate vaccines have entered animal testing at the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, which has the “Level 3” laboratory facilities required to deal with SARS. The first test results are expected this June.

It typically takes a minimum of 10 years to develop a market-ready vaccine, but institutions operating as part of SAVI hope to cut that time in half for the first successful SARS vaccine for humans.

VIDO’s SARS work began in May 2003, but the institution had years of experience working with a coronavirus – the type of virus that causes SARS – as part of its livestock health research. “VIDO has previously developed and licensed a coronavirus vaccine for cattle,” says Babiuk. “This provided a solid basis of understanding of the issues involved, which has proven very important in vaccine development for SARS.”

Future VIDO research on SARS and other highly infectious diseases will benefit from a new International Vaccine Centre (INTERVAC), slated to open on the University of Saskatchewan campus in 2008. The projected $61.8 million facility – a collaboration of VIDO, the university’s College of Medicine and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – will be Saskatchewan’s first Level 3 laboratory dealing with human and animal diseases. Level 3 facilities are required for work with diseases such as SARS, hepatitis C, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and tuberculosis (TB), which can cause serious infections.

The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization is a world leader in vaccine research for the control of infectious diseases and is a wholly owned University of Saskatchewan not-for-profit institute. It operates with substantial support from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Saskatchewan as well as Government of Canada competitive grants.