A collaboration between the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Chinese firm CanSino Biologics will allow a candidate vaccine against COVID-19 to be manufactured and clinically developed in Canada.

The research will be carried out at the Montreal NRC laboratories.

“It is definitely one of the most promising candidates at this point, so it is interesting that we can assess it here in Canada”, said Rhonda Kuo Lee, who is project manager at the Center for Human Health Therapy Research at NRC.

Chinese regulatory authorities approved the Ad5-nCoV vaccine earlier this year, and clinical Phase 2 trials have already begun in that country.

CanSino has initiated the steps necessary for conducting clinical trials in Canada with Health Canada.

The vaccine uses an adenovirus to introduce spicule proteins from the coronavirus into the body and induce an immune response.

It is an adenovirus which, even if it is alive, cannot replicate itself, said Lee. To replicate, you must use HEK293 cells, and these are the cells that belong to NRC. We’re also going to use these cells to grow the vaccine itself.

A hundred vaccines on the starting line

Approximately 100 SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are emerging worldwide but only eight have entered clinical trials. It’s said that the Ad5-nCoV vaccine is one step ahead of the others.

There are several candidate vaccines, but there is always hope that positive results can be seen, said Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Howard Njoo.

This is really good news for Canada, but also for research to find a vaccine around the world, he added.

Clinical trials could start in Canada in a few weeks. If all goes well, the vaccine could be commercially available within twelve or fifteen months.

Since 2013, NRC and CanSinoBIO have worked closely together. NRC has granted a licence to use their HEK293 cell line to CanSinoBIO. The new candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine is made using this cell line.