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Federal government invests in pandemic rapid response lab at UBC

UBC gets $140 million for science hub tasked with developing vaccines, drugs for health emergencies.
Megan Levings and team at the Advanced Therapeutics Manufacturing Facility at UBC.

Should there ever be another pandemic like COVID-19, Canada is hoping to be better prepared with rapid response team in B.C. that will be tasked with developing drugs and vaccines within 100 days.

The federal government today announced $140 million in funding for Canada’s Immuno-Engineering and Biomanufacturing Hub (CIEBH) out of the University of BC. It will support four multi-disciplinary research projects.

The CIEBH hub is a UBC-led alliance of more than 50 partners in industry, academia, health care and not-for-profit groups involved in the development of RNA vaccines, antibody treatments and cell therapies.

It will be Canada’s rapid response team tasked with coming up with responses to pandemics and other health threats within 100 days.

“These projects ensure we are ready to respond to future pandemics and they will also generate the talent and industry collaborations needed to foster and sustain a world-class life sciences sector,” said UBC president and vice-chancellor Benoit-Antoine Bacon.

The funding comes from two sources: the Canada Biomedical Research Fund (CBRF) and Biosciences Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF).

“The nearly $574 million in federal funding announced today, including $140 million for CIEBH, led by UBC, solidifies Canada’s position as a global leader in the biomanufacturing and life sciences sector,” said Randeep Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre.

Some of the funding announced today will go to an advanced therapeutics manufacturing lab at UBC and a program led by Pieter Cullis called AVENGER that is described as “an end-to-end drug development platform for RNA vaccines.”

Cullis is the co-founder of Acuitas Therapeutics, which developed a key component of the mRNA vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for COVID-19.

Another program receiving funding is PROGENITER, also based at UBC, that will provide a pipeline of antibody therapies. A social sciences and humanities consortium at UBC will also receive funding to address issues like public trust in new vaccines and therapies.

“In addition to bolstering Canada’s pandemic resilience, the CIEBH projects will accelerate the development of lifesaving treatments for some of the most pressing health challenges facing Canadians like cancer, diabetes, dementia and more,” UBC said in a press release.

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