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"We know our vaccine is safe. Therefore, I will stick out my arm as the first vaccinee," said Chil-Yong Kang, PhD, DSc, FRSC, Professor of Virology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario.
Kang is a Canadian scientist who developed a preventative HIV vaccine which is currently in human clinical trials. Now, his research team is working round-the-clock on a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Kang says his team is using its "well-established VSV (Vesicular Stomatitis Virus)-based platform technology" to create an effective vaccine against COVID-19. The same platform technology has been used successfully in his laboratory for the development of a vaccine for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), another coronavirus disease. He says he is optimistic about having a preventive SARS-CoV-2 vaccine ready for testing soon.
His team is working 12-hour days, coming into the laboratory seven days a week to make their COVID-19 vaccine testable within three months, he says. That's breakneck speed for developing a vaccine for a new virus, which normally take years to develop, given that traditional vaccines take between eight and 10 years to develop. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), estimated that a vaccine could be ready for the general public in around 18 months.
But because of the urgency to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, Kang says he'd like to see the Canadian government fast-track vaccines for human clinical trial. And that’s one of the reasons Kang and his team are working around the clock.
"Vaccines have to be safe. No matter how effective the vaccine is, if it isn't safe, we cannot use it," he says. "It [also] has to be effective. Ideally, we want to have a vaccine which can prevent over 90 per cent of infection."
The Government of Canada has provided funding for the research, nearly a million dollars through Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Other Canadian universities working to find a vaccine are at McMaster University, University of Alberta, Laval University, University of British Columbia, University of Saskatchewan and University of Manitoba.
Kang says in the near future he's going to need much more support for the human clinical trials.