Ottawa researchers examine cancer-fighting viruses for COVID-19 vaccine

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As the pandemic continues to spread worldwide, health experts agree that until a vaccine is discovered, everyday life may not return to normal.

This is one reason why a team of doctors in Ottawa is using their cancer research to create a vaccine against COVID-19.

Researchers at the Ottawa Hospital are harnessing the power of already-developed TB viruses to attack COVID-19, building on the same concepts but using them as a vaccine.

Dr. Carolina Ilkow works alongside cancer research pioneer Dr. John Bell and others across the country, genetically engineering harmless viruses into a COVID killer.

“These viruses are like building blocks like Lego and we are changing bits of them,” said Dr. Ilkow, scientist at the Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“We can make these viruses express tiny pieces of COVID-19, so when we give this as a vaccine, we can train our immune system to recognize COVID.” “

Dr. Ilkow and Dr. Bell, along with team members from the University of Calgary and McMaster University, have developed several strains of these cancer viruses that they believe could be reused as vaccines for COVID-19. Ilkow points out that a new coronavirus requires new strategies, which will allow them to choose the safest and most powerful production model.

If the team creates a vaccine, they can produce large quantities at the Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Center. The only hospital laboratory in Canada capable of producing virus-based vaccines and therapies for clinical trials.

As global efforts continue in the fight against the pandemic, funding is an essential part of research. The team received $ 250,000 from Fast Grants for their research. It is one of 23 COVID-19 grants awarded to Canadian research institutions by the foundation.

The Thistledown Foundation, established by Fiona McKean and her husband and co-founder of Shopify in Ottawa, Tobi Lütke, provided $ 5 million for the grants.

Dr. Ilkow says it is incredible to receive this grant and comes at a crucial time when funding is needed for research, some of which can be used to provide a clinical record to Health Canada if a vaccine is made.

This research is one of more than 50 COVID-19 research projects currently underway at the Ottawa Hospital.

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