Prime Minister opens InterVac

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on hand Sept. 16 for the grand opening of the $140-million International Vaccine Centre (InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan, a facility that augments Canada’s capacity to prevent and fight infectious diseases in both humans and animals.

Harper was joined by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison, U of S President Peter MacKinnon and VIDO-InterVac Director and CEO Andrew Potter at the opening of the containment level 3 facility. The state-of-the-art research centre—one of the largest of its kind in the world—uses the most advanced technologies to develop vaccines against new and re-emerging infectious diseases.

The prime minister stressed the connection between facilities like InterVac and economic growth in Canada, saying the country "can't build a world-class economy without investing in research … research that creates new technologies and new opportunities for Canadians."

InterVac builds on a long tradition of research at the University of Saskatchewan, he said, and is an example of successful partnerships.

Capital funding for the project included $49 million from the Government of Canada through various agencies, $32.5 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, $57.1 million from the Province of Saskatchewan, $1.2 million from the University of Saskatchewan, and $250,000 from the City of Saskatoon.

Harper noted the capability of scientists at InterVac to conduct disease and vaccine research in animal populations as well as human. "The stakes are enormous," he said, for those who depend on the success of agriculture, noting that a single outbreak of a disease like BSE can be devastating for cattle herds and ranchers, and can cost Canadian taxpayers enormous amounts of money. The technologies developed at InterVac will be used to keep Canadian livestock, and Canadian citizens, healthy.

Operating as part of the university Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), InterVac provides specially designed facilities for scientists to conduct research into emerging and re-emerging diseases, the majority of which originate in animals. Scientists from across Canada and around the world will be able to use the facility.

In his comments at the event, Wall described the opening as milestone in the continuing scientific inquiry required to "rid the world of the scourge of disease." He noted the federal government remained committed to InterVac through a time of escalating construction costs that saw a final price tag more than double original cost estimates.

MacKinnon also thanked the prime minister as well as the premier and mayor for their financial support of the project. The opening of InterVac is "a very proud day for the University of Saskatchewan." He noted the strong academic mandate of InterVac to prepare graduate students to be the next generation of researchers.

Among the diseases that will be explored at InterVac are tuberculosis, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, SARS, influenza, as well as prion diseases like chronic wasting disease.

The dual-wing InterVac building includes laboratories for research as well as an animal wing with multi-species accommodation.The facility is currently in a commissioning process and will then undergo certification to ensure it meets the safety standards of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It is expected to be operational in early 2012.

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