HALIFAX — A Halifax research team selected to conduct the first Canadian clinical trials for a possible COVID-19 vaccine was also involved in trials that eventually led to a vaccine for the Ebola virus.
Health Canada has approved trials that will be conducted at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.
The centre’s director, Dr. Scott Halperin, says the lab was one of several in Canada and the U.S. whose work starting in 2014 eventually saw an “emergency release” of an Ebola vaccine that was used in West Africa before a third phase of clinical trials had been completed.
Halperin says it’s possible the same emergency release could happen in Canada with a potential COVID-19 vaccine if it shows potential and is deemed safe, expediting a process that usually takes a number of years to complete.
The Halifax researchers will be building on work by a Chinese manufacturer that is already conducting human clinical trials for the vaccine.
Halperin says the first phase trial should be underway within the next three weeks once final approval is given by the centre’s research ethics board.
Phase 1 will involve fewer than 100 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 who will be followed over the next six months.
If they show a safe immune response to the vaccine, Halperin said researchers will quickly transition into an expanded second phase study before the first phase is even completed.
That would involve hundreds of people of all ages, including those aged 65 to 85, and would be administered by several other research centres across the country that are part of the Canadian Immunization Research Network.
Halperin said the network was set up by the federal government in 2009 as part of the response to the H1N1 pandemic.
He said the intent was to create the necessary infrastructure to respond rapidly to an emergency and to do early phase clinical trials so vaccines would be available in Canada.