Researchers at the University of Guelph have received $ 230,000 to develop potential COVID-19 vaccines as part of Ontario’s entire Ontario investment to advance research to fight the pandemic.
Pathobiology professor Byram Bridle said he believed the team’s vaccine platform – adapted from UG research into vaccines as cancer therapies – would be a top candidate among the 120 Canadian projects currently under development to develop an effective vaccine against the pandemic virus.
“We have been focusing on cancer for years, but this collaboration shows the flexibility of the technology we have in Guelph,” he said. “We can quickly apply cancer technology and evolve it into infectious diseases.”
The team received a $ 230,000 one-year grant this week in Ontario government funding COVID-19 rapid research to test four vaccines already developed in university labs. Almost a dozen researchers are involved, including Bridle and principal investigators Sarah Wootton and Leo Susta, also faculty members of the Department of Pathobiology.
The three research laboratories have been approved for critical research status, allowing them to conduct studies while respecting safety protocols in the event of a pandemic.
After immunological and safety tests at G University, researchers expect to share their two best vaccine candidates in about eight months with collaborators led by Darwyn Kobasa, chief of pathogenesis and therapeutics for respiratory viruses at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg for effectiveness testing.
Bridle said he hoped to see a viable technology-based vaccine ready for Health Canada approval in 2021.
Their vaccines target a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. After transporting the protein to mice using a common adenovirus and an avian virus that normally infects chickens, they will measure immune responses in two ways.
They plan to look for specific levels of antibodies that recognize the protein and prevent the virus from entering lung cells. For any virus that crosses the body’s defenses, they will also monitor the production of T cells that normally fight infection.
Out of four potential vaccines, they plan to send the top two NML candidates for further testing. The team will work with Health Canada to ensure a “quick spot” of any potential vaccine that needs to be released to the public.
Bridle said Canadian researchers are working on about 120 coronavirus vaccines. He said he was confident that the University of G approach would be among the best candidates.
The technology uses a proven test platform for viruses already used to develop cancer vaccines. By using live vectors to deliver the vaccine directly to cells, he said, the approach ensures an appropriate immune response. Other approaches using a killed virus could be developed more quickly, he said, but many of these vaccines will not trigger the body’s proper immune response.
Bridle, Wootton and Susta have collaborated on the use of viruses in the treatment of cancer, including one of the viruses they are currently testing for a possible coronavirus vaccine.
He said that unlike other “point-in-time” approaches to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, the team’s platforms can be adapted to develop vaccines for future versions of a coronavirus. This means that future vaccines could be produced more quickly and at lower cost, giving Canada a basis for further vaccine development.
“With these vaccine vectors, we have designed them to be ‘plug and play’. You can put any gene into the vectors in two weeks. It could be a target protein in a cancer cell, but it could just as easily be a protein from a virus. “
“I would like to congratulate Byram Bridle and the entire team at the University of Guelph for receiving approval for this project through the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund,” said the Member for Kitchener-Conestoga, Mike Harris. “The Ontario government is committed to supporting our world-class researchers and institutions in their fight against the current global pandemic.”
Malcolm Campbell, Vice-President (Research), said, “This very clear-sighted and incredibly intelligent support from our provincial government is exceptional.”
By combining three U of G research teams, he said, the project “in turn will stimulate discoveries and fuel innovations aimed at creating a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that -tends the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, our government’s smart investment will ensure that this University of Guelph research addresses the challenges of this pandemic, as well as any coronavirus diseases that may emerge in the future. “
Overall, the province has committed $ 20 million through its COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund – part of the Ontario Together Fund – for research aimed at fighting the pandemic.
The team also received support from the Department of Pathobiology, the Ontario Veterinary College, and the University’s COVID-19 Research Catalyst Development Fund.
Noting that the team brings together experts in viral immunology, virology and pathology, Bridle said the group had responded quickly to the provincial government’s call for research proposals. “We have been working for a long time to develop cancer vaccines. As soon as the call was made for COVID-19 vaccines, we realized that we had potential vaccination strategies. “