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Scientists at Nova Scotia lab closer to testing COVID-19 vaccine on humans
HALIFAX -- The brightest minds in science are hard at work on a coronavirus vaccine, including scientists at a lab in Dartmouth, N.S.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, researchers at IMV quickly transitioned from working in cancer research to focusing on a COVID-19 vaccine.
The biotech firm now has a vaccine candidate that just completed animal trials.
“Now we do the next step, which is get the vaccine ready for delivery into people,” says Marianne Stanford, the vice-president of research and development at IMV.
“We do the safety studies and the studies that really moves us from pre-clinical, into clinical.”
That means 84 human volunteers will soon be needed for trials to take place this summer.
“If the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, you move quickly into the next phase of clinical study and then everything will hopefully be data driven from there,” says Stanford.
The work at IMV is just one of the projects being overseen by the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax.
Another project -- born out of a partnership with a Chinese vaccine manufacturer and the National Research Council of Canada -- was recently approved by the federal government to conduct Canada's first clinical trials.
“Our hope is that we'll get the final approvals we'll need within the next week or so,” says Dr. Scott Halperin, the director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.
Once they get the approvals, there will be three phases of tests in humans.
“First, we'll be doing the study in healthy adults who are between 18 and 55 years of age,” says Halperin.
“Then, after we see some preliminary safety in those individuals, we'll be moving on to enrolling volunteers who are 65 to 85 years of age.”
A final phase would test the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Halperin says government could then fast-track the vaccine to get it to Canadians as soon as possible.
Dr. William Harless is the head of the biotech firm Encyt in Membertou, N.S. He says his company has transformed its work in treating pancreatic cancer into a treatment for those who have contracted COVID-19.
“The challenge we face now, is finding the location where we can actually prepare the drug for sterile intravenous infusion,” says Harless.
The company is working in tandem with Dr. Myron Szewczuk, an immunologist and professor at Queen's University in Kingston who has done a substantial amount of research connected to the theory behind the treatment, showing positive results in animal trials.
Encyt has applied to both the FDA and Health Canada to test the medication on a small number of COVID-19 patients.
“Just 10 patients, just to see if there's any evidence for efficacy, and to see if it's safe,” says Harless.