Image provided by Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan

$100M in federal funding positions the Edmonton region as growing hub for pandemic preparedness

Health and Life Sciences
Published On
May 15, 2024

The University of Alberta recently received almost $100 million towards the research and manufacturing of new vaccines, treatments, and tests in preparation for any future outbreaks.

Since the announcement of Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy in 2021, the Canadian federal government has dedicated $2.2 billion to growing the country’s ability to manufacture therapeutics, specifically vaccines. Now, University of Alberta researchers have been awarded nearly $100 million to further develop the Edmonton region’s life sciences infrastructure.

Leading the charge for many grant applications is the PRAIRIE Hub for Pandemic Preparedness, which aided four successful projects in procuring this funding. These grants specifically aim to increase Canada’s biomanufacturing capabilities, specifically the capability to produce vaccines.

Joanne Lemieux, a U of A biochemistry professor and executive scientific director of PRAIRIE Hub, said that one of the gaps in Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic came from Canada not being able to make its own vaccines.

“The government wanted to bolster the biomanufacturing capacity of Canada, to be able to sustain ourselves in the case of another outbreak,” Lemieux continued. “There’s some scenarios where getting vaccinations early could have potentially saved lives.”

These recent federal grants are not the only funding the Edmonton region has received towards pandemic preparedness. The University of Alberta has previously received an infusion of $55.1 million into Striving for Pandemic Preparedness — Alberta Research Consortium (or SPP-ARC) from the Alberta provincial government.

The Edmonton region also hosts the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative (CCDI) led by Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) in partnership with the U of A. The CCDI is a $200 million project dedicated to creating an integrated centre within the Edmonton region’s life sciences sector for research, commercialization, and manufacturing. Additionally, the CCDI will construct a brand-new 55,000 square foot manufacturing facility in the region creating 350 new jobs.

“From the perspective of being a professor, training my students and [trying to ensure that] they have employment when they graduate … the grants will also allow some of our trainees to find employment here,” Lemieux said.

The Edmonton region is home to eight major post-secondary institutions with over 130,000 students enrolled. Lemieux said that the $100 million wouldn’t just help build the facilities, but also help get Albertan students experience in biomanufacturing.

“These grants will help fund the next generation of researchers so Canada can be prepared for the next outbreak.”

With the Edmonton region’s status as a hub for education and research, federal and provincial grants hold a particular significance — not only in fostering the next wave of researchers, but in addressing the need to cultivate employment opportunities within the region’s burgeoning life sciences sector and leveraging the abundance of students, all while supporting economic growth across the region.

“This really bolsters our capacity — specifically here in the Edmonton region — to work towards pandemic preparedness and making sure that the Canadian population is protected.”

Amanda Sparks