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Ottawa researchers eye cancer fighting viruses in search for COVID-19 vaccine
OTTAWA -- As the pandemic continues its global grip, health experts agree that until a vaccine is discovered, day-to-day life may not return to normal.
That’s one reason a team of Ottawa doctors are using their cancer research to create a vaccine for COVID-19.
Researchers at the Ottawa Hospital are harnessing the power of previously developed cancer-fighting viruses to attack COVID-19, building upon the same concepts but using them as a vaccine.
Dr. Carolina Ilkow is working alongside cancer research pioneer Dr. John Bell and others across the country, genetically modifying the harmless viruses into a COVID-killer.
"These viruses are like building blocks like Lego and we change pieces of these Lego," says Dr. Ilkow, Ottawa Hospital scientist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.
"We can make these viruses express tiny pieces of COVID-19, so when we give this as a vaccine we can train our immune system to recognize COVID."
Dr. Ilkow and Dr. Bell, along with team members at the University of Calgary and McMaster University, have developed multiple strains of these cancer fighting viruses that they believe could be repurposed as vaccines for COVID-19. Ilkow points out that a new coronavirus requires new strategies and this will allow them to help pick the safest and most potent model for production.
If the team does create a vaccine they will have the ability to produce large quantities at the Ottawa Hospital's Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre. The only hospital-based lab in Canada capable of producing virus-based vaccines and therapies for clinical trials.
As global efforts continue in the fight against the pandemic, funding is an essential part of research. The team was awarded $250,000 from Fast Grants for their research. It's one of 23 COVID-19 grants issued to Canadian research institutions by the foundation.
The Thistledown Foundation, established by Fiona McKean and her husband and Ottawa-based Shopify co-founder Tobi Lütke, provided $5 million towards the grants.
Dr. Ilkow says it's incredible to receive this grant and comes at a crucial time when funding is needed for research, some of which can be used to deliver a clinical package for Health Canada if a vaccine is made.
This research is one of more than 50 COVID-19 research projects currently underway at the Ottawa Hospital.