World-renowned vaccine researcher Andrew Potter.

Six world-first vaccines among USask’s VIDO-InterVac contributions to global health

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) has established itself as a leading global institute in protecting human and animal health since 1975, with six world-firsts among the eight vaccines it has commercialized.


The financial impact of these vaccines on industry in Saskatchewan alone has amounted to more than $1.2 billion over a 10-year span, said Dr. Andrew Potter (PhD), outgoing director and CEO of VIDO-InterVac.

Two more vaccines are expected to soon receive marketing licences.

“Eight or 10 vaccines over a 40-year-plus window might not seem that great, but when you look at the number of world-firsts, it has been a remarkable accomplishment,” said Potter. “We have done things and continue to do things that are high risk, which nobody else will take on.”

The world-firsts include two vaccines against calf scours—potentially fatal diarrhea caused by bacteria and viruses, among other causes. Two vaccines that Potter was instrumental in developing to protect cattle against shipping fever—a type of pneumonia—were the first to be created with genetic engineering, and helped stem losses that were in excess of $1 billion annually for the cattle industry.

Other world-firsts were a vaccine against a fatal intestinal bleeding disease in turkeys (hemorrhagic enteritis), and a vaccine co-developed in 2008 with University of British Columbia researchers to control human infections and environmental contamination by reducing the spread of E. coli 0157 bacteria by cattle.

Infectious diseases result in poultry mortality rates as high as 50 per cent, and cause industry losses of billions of dollars annually. Food-borne illnesses resulting from E. coli and other toxins are responsible for more than 400,000 human deaths annually.

The other two commercialized vaccines—for swine pneumonia and bovine respiratory disease—were not world firsts, “but they were better than anything else out there,” said Potter.

The two vaccines expected to be licensed soon will protect against:  

  • Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has killed more than eight million piglets in North America since 2013, with losses of more than $400 million. The vaccine is being field tested in Saskatchewan and was recently used in Manitoba after a PEDv outbreak. Huvepharma has partnered with VIDO-InterVac to develop the technology for commercial production in North America.
  • Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a cattle lung disease that is costing small-scale African farmers $60 million a year. The vaccine has entered commercial production in Kenya and will be rolled out to other African countries.

VIDO-InterVac’s new manufacturing facility to produce vaccines and other biologics (drugs produced from living organisms or components of living organisms) for clinical studies and animal vaccines will come on stream in 2020.

The first human clinical trial at the manufacturing facility is scheduled to start sometime in 2019 on the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The virus produces severe lung diseases including bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants and young children, and is a leading viral cause of infant death, especially in northern communities.

Potter said RSV costs governments tens of millions for clinical treatment, patient transport and hospitalization, so a vaccine would be an ideal solution.

The clinical trial involves a novel vaccine developed by VIDO-InterVac researchers that preclinical studies suggest is safe, effective, and induces long-lasting immune responses. It also induces robust immune responses in newborn animals, and is effective for maternal immunization. 

Research is ongoing on a variety of other vaccines ranging from human and bovine tuberculosis to Zika, Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and influenza.

“All of the easy-to-tackle diseases are done,” said Potter. “We are down to the tough ones that are left, such as a TB vaccine, on which many billions have been spent worldwide already.”

He said global partnerships will be the key to tackling emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases (transferring from animals to humans, and humans to animals) as VIDO-InterVac tackles the challenges ahead—a reason why the organization recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Nanjing Agricultural University in China to develop a vaccine research institute.

VIDO-Intervac conducts more than 150 infectious disease and vaccine studies annually with a team of over 45 PhD-level scientists among its 160-plus employees, and offers a wide range of services to industry partners. It has more than 80 registered patents, and is one of the world’s most advanced containment Level 3 facilities, with capacity to conduct large animal research.