Construction on a $28-million vaccine manufacturing facility at the University of Saskatchewan has been completed.
Media and government dignitaries including Federal PrairiesCan Minister Dan Vandal, Premier Scott Moe, and Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark were able to tour the new facility before its final machine and equipment installation and testing took place.
The vaccine manufacturing facility was built inside the Level 3 containment facility, which is the first of its kind in Canada according to Volker Gerdts, CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), which operates the facility.
“We have the ability to work with these pathogens, discover, develop new vaccines and then also manufacture them in house. That saves time and time is important in a pandemic,” Gerdts said.
Any type of animal or human vaccines can be made at the facility, Gerdts said, adding that they’ll be able to produce a vaccine in less than 100 days, something that wasn’t possible when he took over as director of the facility in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Building this vision of becoming Canada’s Centre for Pandemic Research, not only having the manufacturing facility, but also the upgrade to Level 4 and the new animal facility, recruiting the world’s best scientists to VIDO, it’s all about ensuring that Canadians in the future are safer,” he added.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and continuing to this day, Canada has been reliant on other countries like the U.S., U.K. and India to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, but that’s starting to change. Once all of the regulatory processes are in place and approvals are given, Gerdts the Saskatchewan facility will be able to produce up to 40 million vaccines a year.
“For an organization like ours to be able to make that many vaccines doses is, I think, critical in protecting not only Canadians, but also our livestock industries,” he explained.
In principle, VIDO would also be able to manufacture the same COVID-19 vaccines as companies like Pfizer and Moderna. Discussions are underway with various companies to see if they can be produced in Saskatchewan in the future.
Gerdts said there are still a number of hurdles that need to be completed before that happens.
“There is now a process called commissioning that needs to happen, and then the regulators have to approve it all. So we have to wait for the tours and all the construction to be completed … and then the first animal vaccines could potentially be produced by Quarter four of this year,” Gerdts said.
“We’re hoping in 2023 we will be able to make human vaccines.”
VIDO’s own COVID-19 vaccine is currently being tested in Uganda, Africa. Clinical trials to test their vaccine as a booster are also going on in Canada.
“This vaccine that is going into Africa is addressing new variants and also future variants that aren’t even here yet,” he said.
Premier Scott Moe praised the staff and scientists at the facility, and said he was grateful for the federal government’s continued financial support.
“There are many issues where we fully disagree with the direction of the federal government. This, however, is certainly not one of them,” the premier said.