Concordia collaboration for vaccine making progress
July 29, 2020
MONTREAL – Researchers at Concordia University are making good progress on development of a COVID-19 vaccine and they’re not doing it at a medical lab, but rather, from the comfort of home.
The team is using state-of-the-art computer simulations and AI to model potential vaccines that can be tested quickly. Applying reverse vaccinology – a scientific method that uses bioinformatics and genome sequencing to break down the virus’s structural information – they’re able to come up with different options for a cost-effective, universal vaccine.
“Because our research enables us to deconstruct the virus using genetic modeling, we’re able to develop a vaccine that will have a long-lasting immune response independent of one’s age, gender or background,” said Gilles Peslherbe (pictured), a Concordia University professor and director of the university’s Centre for Research in Molecular Modeling (CERMM), who is overseeing the Canadian side of the project.
Working with Peslherbe are two researchers who hail from India but come from Henan University of Technology in China. They arrived in Montreal in late December as part of the Mitacs Globalink program – a 24-week internship that has international students and junior scholars working alongside local researchers to foster global research links – and were expected to return to China in April. With the onset of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders, however, Mitacs arranged for their Canadian stay to be extended and their work to pivot from lung and cervical cancer research to developing a solution to combat the coronavirus.
The interns, Gurudeeban Selvaraj and Satyavani Kaliamurthi, have regular virtual meetings with Peslherbe, collaborating on the project with international partners at Henan University of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong.
With the Canadian group in the process of optimizing its top vaccine solution through computational research, the partners in China are gearing up for animal clinical trials of the vaccine at their labs later this summer. Peslherbe said the vaccine could be available in early 2021 if everything goes according to plan.
“We wouldn’t have been able to coordinate this research without the collaboration of Mitacs and our international partners,” Peslherbe emphasized. “We have been able to progress so quickly because the interns and partners bring unique expertise that has enabled our research to propel forward.”
Kaliamurthi has a background in cervical cancer research, and because of the similar nature of her previous vaccine research for Cervix Papilloma, an infection that can change cervix cells to pre-cancerous cells, she was able to easily adapt to a COVID-19 solution. Similarly, Selvaraj’s previous work on a new drug design for lung cancer and respiratory conditions helped accelerate his COVID-19 research.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. For information about Mitacs and its programs, see mitacs.ca/newsroom.