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Saskatoon lab joins race for coronavirus vaccine

Risk low for Saskatchewan residents to catch coronavirus: health officials
WATCH: While numerous factors suggest the risk of the new coronavirus affecting Saskatchewan is low, the ministry of health has alerted all emergency rooms in the province in case extra precautions need to be taken.

Saskatchewan’s low level of risk for being affected by the new coronavirus outbreak isn’t stopping one of the province’s laboratories from jumping into the vaccine race.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) told Global News Wednesday that they’re in the midst of an “integrated approach” to developing a vaccine.

“At the moment we’re looking at multiple ways to achieve that,” said VIDO-Intervac research scientist Darryl Falzarano. “One is creating the virus ourselves as well as obtaining material from China we can use.”

READ MORE: Chinese city of Wuhan closes transport networks amid coronavirus outbreak

Chinese health officials said on Wednesday that the death toll from the new flu-like virus, believed to have originated in live animal markets in Wuhan, China, has reached at least 17 people in the country. They’ve confirmed at least 444 cases overall.

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According to the World Health Organization, cases have also been confirmed in the United States, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

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“Part of our institute’s mission is to respond to emerging virus threats and this new coronavirus in China would certainly represent one of those,” said Falzarano.

VIDO-InterVac has worked on different strains of coronavirus in the past. Falzarano said no coronavirus vaccine has yet been approved for human use. He says he hopes their experience with the virus can help change that.

“Building on the knowledge we have from those should move us quicker to developing a vaccine for this virus but we’re not there at this point,” he said.

READ MORE: MAP: Where China’s coronavirus has spread so far

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Falzarano said his lab is working with public health agencies and researchers across Canada to try and find a way to connect with health officials in China. He said the best-case, but unlikely, scenario would be obtaining a virus isolate from China.

“I think everyone in the world is lining up to have that in their lab,” he said.

He said one way to work around not having an isolate is to create the virus themselves in their lab. However if it’s created, Falzarano says the sooner it happens the better.

“At the moment in China we see cases increasing significantly every single day,” he said. “People can move around the world in less than 24 hours. Easily people can leave China and arrive in Canada or anywhere in the world the next day. So everyone needs to have a heightened level of awareness.”