VIDO to headquarter $61.8 million International Vaccine Centre

Mar 22, 2004

The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) has taken a giant leap forward as a preeminent international research institute, with the announcement of plans for a new $61.8 million International Vaccine Centre (INTERVAC).

INTERVAC, which is to be located near VIDO on the University of Saskatchewan campus, is scheduled to be completed in 2008. The facility will be dedicated to protecting human and animal health from the threat of emerging diseases, says Dr. Lorne Babiuk, VIDO Director. It will be the province's first “Level 3” laboratory dealing with human and animal diseases. Level 3 safety regulations are required for labs dealing with infectious diseases such as BSE, SARS, West Nile virus and avian influenza.

“INTERVAC will dramatically strengthen VIDO’s standing as a world leader in vaccine research for the control of infectious diseases,” says Babiuk. “It will allow us to tackle the emerging, high profile diseases affecting animal and human health, elevating Canadian science internationally while bringing broad social and economic benefits.”

INTERVAC is made possible by a $19.2 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The remaining funding will be sought from government and other sources. Operating costs will be covered in part by user fees. The facility represents a collaboration among VIDO, the university’s College of Medicine and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

The International Vaccine Centre represents the crowning achievement in a series of organizational developments at VIDO, says Babiuk. Over the past decade, the organization has pursued an aggressive vision to capitalize on the convergence of animal health research and human health research, and to use the latest and most appropriate techniques to solve society’s current problems.

“This enhanced capacity to work with Level 3 diseases takes VIDO to a whole new level of opportunity,” says Babiuk. “Over the last 30 years, there have been more than 30 emerging infectious diseases affecting animal and human health, and the large majority of these are Level 3 diseases. Having a Level 3 laboratory of this capacity in our own facility will allow us to rapidly respond to these challenges, and to develop solutions with tremendous global impact.”

In recent years, VIDO has placed a heavy emphasis on advances in genomics and proteomics research, and on the development of “platform technologies” that offer multiple applications across species and diseases. In fall 2003, VIDO completed a new $19 million, 50,000 square foot expansion that boosted capacity in all research areas. This expansion saw the addition of more than 20 top international scientists, along with supporting technical staff.

INTERVAC will be directly interwoven with VIDO's expanded facilities, says Babiuk. It will add another 160,000 square feet of Level 3 laboratory space, with rooms outfitted to handle a range of disease models. This will allow VIDO and its partners to build on VIDO's strong history of developing models for infectious diseases.

“Compared to most Level 3 laboratory facilities, INTERVAC will be unique in its capacity and expertise to handle large animal studies,” says Babiuk. “We will have a much broader capacity to investigate a wider variety of diseases and disease solutions.

“This will also strengthen our ability to host and collaborate with internationally prominent research scientists from around the world, and to train, retain and attract top scientists.”

The economic benefits of INTERVAC will be high-impact and far-reaching, he says. From a geographical perspective, it will act as a magnet to attract companies in the human and animal health and disease sectors to Saskatoon and Western Canada. It will also enhance VIDO’s connections to major global companies and other commercial partners.

At a societal level, it will lead to solutions for costly diseases that affect animals and humans across the globe – diseases responsible annually for thousands of deaths and billions in health care and related costs. Currently, VIDO partners with institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere to handle work that requires Level 3 facilities. INTERVAC will allow the organization to rapidly boost capacity and progress in this area.

“We foresee INTERVAC becoming a major hub of innovation for a long time at a global level,” says Babiuk.

INTERVAC adds another component to the University of Saskatchewan's growing biosciences cluster, which represents a wide capacity of research resources and potential for collaboration. VIDO is already tapping into the Canadian Light Source synchrotron – merely a stone's throw from VIDO’s facilities – to pursue a new approach to research on how bacteria cause disease.

The Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization 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.