Western University researchers start work on coronavirus vaccine

A multidisciplinary team of Western University researchers is beginning work on the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

While working to establish and test an effective vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19, the team is also working to develop a vaccine bank that would contain many ready-made vaccines to be used rapidly at the start of another coronavirus outbreak of a different strain.

“An effective vaccine will have a tremendous impact on stopping the spread of the virus or alleviating the symptoms of the disease in infected individuals,” said Stephen Barr, associate professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

“In the face of an outbreak like this one, putting together collaborative teams and working with other labs across the country is critically important for giving Canada the greatest chance to effectively control and manage this pandemic.”

Ontario health officials announced 43 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, with a second confirmed death from COVID-19.

Barr will help lead the team, along with fellow Schulich associate professors Chil-Yong Kang, Ryan Troyer and Eric Arts.

“We are in unprecedented modern times,” said Arts. “We can look back in human history, and while a pandemic of this magnitude has happened before, we didn’t have the same public health infrastructure and research technology that we have now.”

The team has received $998,840 for the project, one of 96 projects funded across the country.

Their hope is that by using bioinformatics they would be able to identify which strain is circulating early in an outbreak, and immediately start vaccine production from the vaccine bank.

“With the technology we have today, we can also introduce all the genetic diversity that exists for these coronaviruses in bats and other species and create thousands of ‘seed’ vaccines,” said Arts.

The work will be done in Western’s recently constructed Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Translation (ImPaKT) facility.

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