The five-year renewable appointment was recently approved by both the USask board of governors and the VIDO-InterVac board of directors.
“With his vision, passion for research and leadership skills honed during 18 years of outstanding work at VIDO-InterVac, Volker is well equipped to advance the organization—one of Canada’s top scientific centres—to another level of excellence and global leadership,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad.
Gerdts, who has served as VIDO-InterVac’s associate director of research for the past 11 years, will succeed Andrew Potter as the organization's fifth director, effective Jan. 1.
“Volker has played a key role at VIDO-InterVac during its enormous growth period, and with his deep understanding of the organization, he will continue to enhance VIDO-InterVac’s impact both in Canada and internationally,” said VIDO-InterVac board chair Craig Vanderwagen.
Gerdts has led numerous international research projects, including one of the initial Grand Challenges in Global Health projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of this research, the group developed a novel vaccine platform for neonates that is being used to develop vaccines for pertussis and respiratory syncytial virus. He was also a member of the team that developed a vaccine against contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a highly contagious bacterial disease in cattle.
In 2016, he was the scientific lead in developing and testing a vaccine for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a viral disease in pigs which can kill up to 100 per cent of infected piglets and has cost the North American swine industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Gerdts said he intends to advance VIDO-InterVac’s scientific excellence, international reputation, and commercialization efforts, while working closely with colleagues across Canada and locally on campus to enhance the university’s unique life sciences research cluster, embrace Indigenization, and strengthen relationships with partners.
VIDO-InterVac has commercialized eight vaccines, with two more in commercial development.
“VIDO-InterVac truly is a global leader,” Gerdts said. “With some of the best minds and most advanced infrastructure in the world, we have the opportunity to make VIDO-InterVac the world’s premier research institute for emerging diseases.”
He noted that with the addition of the International Vaccine Centre in 2011, and completion of the pilot-scale manufacturing unit in 2020, VIDO-InterVac will soon be able to test and produce vaccines for some of the deadliest infections in humans and animals.
Gerdts received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Hanover Veterinary School in Germany and a PhD equivalent from the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health on the Island of Riems. He first came to VIDO-InterVac in 1998 as a post-doctoral fellow. He was hired as a research scientist in 2002 and became associate director in 2007.
An active member of the international research community, Gerdts has published in more than 120 peer-reviewed publications, including in Nature Medicine. He has served on three editorial boards and has been on numerous review panels including the National Institutes of Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Gairdner Foundation.He is engaged with Canadian livestock producer groups and has mentored over 20 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.