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SASKATOON —
A local firm specializing in medical cannabis science is lending its expertise to the University of Saskatchewan-based VIDO-InterVac research lab’s quest for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The lab, which received 23 million dollars in federal funding in March to aid its COVID-19-related research, recently moved into animal trials as part of its research.

Now, Saskatoon-based ZYUS Life Sciences is working with researchers at VIDO-InterVac to help create the vaccine which could potentially be “plant-based” according to the company.

“We have is what is called a ‘plant platform.’ We can design a plant to can make compounds that are therapeutic in nature that are also protein in nature.” ZYUS president and CEO Brent Zettl said.

“What we focus in on are compounds that we can design within the plant and then, later on, purify them, or pull them out of the plant. It’s a way of actually manufacturing valuable drugs that need to be produced in a living cell,”

Zettl says that using plants to create the necessary proteins provides a way to produce a potential vaccine that also offers large amounts of scalability once in production.

“It’s just a different way of manufacturing a known protein,” Zettl said.

Now that the lab has made some headway and discovered the antigen that is necessary to create the vaccine, Zyus can step up and provide a way to create that antigen in plants, using them almost as a “photocopier” as Zettl describes.

Zyus was a company focused on health sciences, and never really saw themselves working in the field of infectious diseases, but one day Zettl got an idea while watching the news.

“I turned to my team and I said ‘Do you guys really think that we can make this vaccine? It’s a protein obviously, do you think we could do it?’ And they looked at each other and said ‘Well we don’t see why we can’t’,” Zettl said

“I happened to also know some of the individuals that are at VIDO-InterVac and I reached out to them directly and said ‘would you guys consider a collaborative research project?,”

Zettl said he is hoping to have things moving quickly now that Zyus and VIDO are working together, and he is looking forward to potentially seeing results in a matter of months.

“We look at having our first expression purified in a vial of the first vaccine, basically the vaccine protein, by the end of August,” Zettl said.

Zettl said that being part of a mission like this that affects so many across the globe brings him pride.

“We think people are honestly sick and tired of being sick and tired. Our mantra is to find solutions that sort of cause a change that helps move things along.”

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