Saskatchewan research group’s COVID-19 vaccine moves to Phase 2 clinical trials

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The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, known as VIDO, at the University of Saskatchewan is moving to Phase 2 of clinical testing of a COVID-19 vaccine developed at its lab in Saskatoon.

Director and chief officer Dr. Volker Gerdts said interim data from a study led by the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology found that its COVAC-2 vaccine is safe and well-tolerated.

“We have not seen any adverse reactions to the vaccine,” he said. “So it indicates that the vaccine is safe.”

Gerdts said the most common general reaction was a headache, and the most notable location reaction was mild pain at the injection site.

He said even at the lowest dose, the vaccine increased the participant’s antibody levels, including neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19.

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The organization is also encouraged by the results against the Delta variant.

“We’ve tested some of the blood from these volunteers against the Delta variant and we can see that we’re getting very strong immune responses against the Delta,” he said.

“So that’s very, very encouraging for us.”

VIDO, which received $59.2 million to expand its facilities in the last federal budget, is now working with the university and the Saskatchewan Health Authority for a clinical trial in Saskatoon.

It is open to anyone aged 18 and older who has not been infected with COVID-19 or received an authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Gerdts said more than 400 people have already volunteered to take part.

He said he expects screening to get underway the week of Sept. 20, which will involve around 600 people.

However, getting the vaccine out to the general population is still months away.

“We’re looking for at least a few months for the Phase 2 study, and then as soon as the regulator would allow us to then do a Phase 3 study, which is really looking at how does it perform in and out in the field,” he said.

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“And then, after that, would come manufacturing.”

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The organization is also working with the Institute Pasteur in Senegal to eventually make its product available in Africa.

VIDO’s vaccine offers advantages over others because it’s a proteins subunit, Gerdts said.

It offers ease of handling and transportation, is cost-effective, and doesn’t require ultra-low freezers, making it the ideal candidate for rural Saskatchewan, Canada’s north, or the middle of Africa, he said.

“You know, there’s still countries that have essentially no access to vaccines at all at the moment,” he said.

“And here we have millions of doses in Canada that are expiring right now.”

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