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12 May, 2020 18:32

Canada teams up with Chinese scientists to co-produce potential Covid-19 vaccine and test it on humans

Canada teams up with Chinese scientists to co-produce potential Covid-19 vaccine and test it on humans

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has struck a deal with a Chinese biotechnology company developing one of the “most advanced” vaccine candidates against the novel coronavirus to produce and test in Canada.

A vaccine named Ad5-nCoV, which may prove effective against Covid-19, has been developed by China’s CanSino Biologics company together with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, part of the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences. It was already approved for the first phase of clinical trials in China in mid-March and is now expected to be tested in Canada too.

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The NRC, the Canadian government’s leading research and development agency, has announced it will cooperate with CanSino to “advance bioprocessing and clinical development” of the potential vaccine. The inoculation is about to become the first one to enter the second phase of trials on humans – which means it has been deemed generally safe enough to start evaluating its effectiveness against the virus.

Canada’s role would mostly amount to manufacturing the doses to be used in human tests and administered to patients – if approved for emergency pandemic use. “We are going to get to evaluate it for safety and efficacy in Canada, as is being done already in China, and Canada will now be part of the front-runner story,” Roman Szumski, vice-president of life sciences at the NRC, told the Globe and Mail.

The vaccine is essentially a genetically modified adenovirus, carrying a spike protein specific to Covid-19 to help the human body prepare to identify and destroy the disease.

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The Chinese company developed it using the HEK293 cell line – an NRC culture licensed to it by Canada for the development of a vaccine against Ebola, which was approved for use by Beijing back in 2017. Now, the collaboration between the Chinese and Canadian scientists will allow NRC to “scale-up [the] production process for the vaccine candidate.”

The property rights for the vaccine will stay in Chinese hands, but the NRC’s involvement would ensure Canada gets its guaranteed domestic supply, according to Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) at Dalhousie University.

The exact date for launching the Canadian leg of the trials has not been announced, and it will also have to first be approved by the federal institution Health Canada. However, Ottawa said in late March that it was allocating $44 million to upgrade NRC’s facilities in Montreal to ensure the site is ready for “bioprocessing of potential vaccine candidates as they become available.”

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According to media reports, the vaccine candidate entered its second trial phase in China in late April, even though the first phase would normally be expected to last until December. Halperin believes that third-phase testing in Canada could begin as early as in September.

So far, more than 71,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in Canada, with over 5,100 deaths due to the virus.

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