By Volker Gerdts and Paul Hodgson
Outbreaks of pathogens like tuberculosis, Zika virus, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) regularly make headlines, and the threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is an increasing concern. All of this underlines the need to get ahead of these infectious diseases so that we can limit their impact.
Science has proven that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent infectious disease. Fortunately, Canada is a global leader in developing innovative vaccines that protect both humans and animals. It is therefore critical that Canada is able to accelerate the development of vaccine technologies developed here, and in the timeframes necessary, through access to manufacturing.
Scientists from across the country currently have priority access to over $200 million in containment infrastructure at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) in Saskatoon—infrastructure that supports vaccine development for human and animal infectious diseases like tuberculosis, Zika, and influenza. The next step is ensuring that the world-leading vaccine research done across Canada has a cost-effective development pathway towards commercialization.
To help alleviate the shortage of manufacturing capacity, the federal government (through Western Economic Diversification Canada), the Saskatchewan government (through Innovation Saskatchewan) and industry recently invested several million dollars towards completing phase one of a manufacturing facility capable of producing high-quality, low-cost vaccines for developmental testing.
This manufacturing facility will support new vaccine commercialization and help enable emergency preparedness. The shortage of small-scale vaccine manufacturing and process development capacity hinders our ability to develop and commercialize new vaccines that could protect the health of Canadian people and animals, and support our economy.
Scheduled to open in 2020, the production facility will be part of VIDO-InterVac, a publicly funded institution focused on driving innovation and accelerating vaccine development rather than generating profit.
Leveraging our scientific strengths
Part of the University of Saskatchewan, VIDO-InterVac is internationally recognized for its role in vaccine development and is one of Canada’s major national science facilities. VIDO-InterVac has a history of vaccine development and commercialization—eight vaccines developed at our organization have been sold commercially, and six of these have been described as world-firsts. Three more vaccines are in clinical development.
It is critical to accelerate the development of Canadian vaccine technologies—and in the timeframes necessary—to support new vaccine commercialization and help enable emergency preparedness.
Our recent successes include a vaccine developed with African partners for contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), a devastating disease of African cattle, and a vaccine for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). In the human sphere, a novel vaccine candidate developed with our partners to stop a leading cause of bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia in infants, young children and the elderly, will soon begin Phase 1 clinical trials with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax.
To ensure Canada can effectively commercialize the scientific innovations we must have the capacity to turn them into commercial products. The lack of affordable small-scale manufacturing has been a persistent challenge for our researchers and has been identified as a gap in the Canadian biomedical landscape. The small-scale manufacturing will also complement the large multi-national vaccine entities currently established in Canada.
Funding needed to complete phase 2
The research conducted at VIDO-InterVac attempts to understand infectious diseases in order to develop vaccines and other medicines capable of inhibiting the spread of an infectious organism—and help turn these research findings into commercially available technologies for public health. The commercial development of these technologies requires significant investment in both the physical infrastructure and the processes needed to bring these solutions into public use.
We are now reaching out to stakeholders to secure the additional $8 million to $10 million required to complete the second phase of the vaccine manufacturing facility and provide Canada with good-manufacturing-practice-compliant small-scale manufacturing. This capacity is already available in other countries.
The United States, for example, has made significant investments to ensure they have national production capacity and development as part of their emergency preparedness. The US Department of Health and Human Services invested $400 million to establish three centres capable of developing and manufacturing vaccines and other medical countermeasures for use in health emergencies and in preparedness protection. Canada needs to ensure we have similar capacity.
Canada can build on its foundational scientific strengths to expedite new vaccine development by ensuring necessary infrastructure is available to all Canadian academics, industry and government personnel trying to develop their discoveries. This will be a vital step to help safeguard humans and animals from emerging infectious diseases.
Dr. Volker Gerdts is the director and CEO of VIDO-InterVac and Dr. Paul Hodgson is the institute’s associate director of business development.