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Grocery bills set to increase for Canadians: report – Global News

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According to a new report from Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, the average Canadian family is set to spend a lot more at the grocery store.

Each year, Canada’s Food Price Report predicts changes in the major food categories and outlines the factors, both expected and unforeseen, that influence the cost to the consumer.

Read more:
Despite the pandemic and a drought, many Peterborough producers reporting strong selling season

This year’s report forecasts that overall food prices in Canada will increase between two and four per cent, and that the average Canadian family will spend $12,667 on their annual grocery bill — an increase of $487 compared to the 2019 model.


Canada’s Food Price Report 2020 showing a prediction of changes in price for major food categories.

One of the events that has triggered this rise in price is the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Price of beef, vegetables increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic

“The reason that we released the report this week is that we actually believe that COVID could make things worse,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, and the report’s lead author.

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“Right now the food inflation rate is at about two per cent, while the general inflation rate is at zero per cent.

“You can see that really over time — because of COVID and because of the economy — it will get more expensive at the grocery store, while for everything else, things are probably going to remain the same for a while.”

Canada’s Food Price Report 2020 outlining which provinces will be above, below or at the food price national average.


Canada’s Food Price Report 2020 outlining which provinces will be above, below or at the food price national average.

In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, the report also sees climate change as the “elephant in the room,” and how events such as droughts and forest fires, as well as a rise in ocean levels, all play a role in affecting our food systems.

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Read more:
Smoke from California wildfires expected to pass over Southern B.C. this week

“[Wildfires in California] are certainly a big factor for the west,” Charlebois said.

“Canada does buy about $3 billion worth of food wholesale every year from California, but a lot of it actually goes to the west — Alberta, B.C. —  between October and January.

“We are expecting that phenomenon to impact food prices, and not just out west, but everywhere in Canada.”

Something else that Charlebois says was identified from creating this year’s report is that the food inflation index has outpaced the general inflation rate by about 16 points overall over the last 20 years.


Click to play video 'Food prices on the rise'



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Food prices on the rise


Food prices on the rise

During this time, one item that has continued to grow in price is baby food.

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“The demand elasticity for baby food is very high. If you buy it, you need it, and you won’t necessarily look at the price,” Charlebois explained.

Conversely, the price of a jar of peanut butter has remained relatively the same price, or even cheaper, year-over-year since 2000, which Charlebois says is due to increased competition from other brands and private labels.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Door-to-door Halloween trick-or-treating is not recommended in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa; Ontario reporting 704 new cases; Canada-U.S. border closure extended to Nov. 21 – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 5:45 a.m.: The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the planet has passed 40 million

  • 5:44 a.m.: York Region joins Toronto, Peel and Ottawa in modified Stage 2 today

  • 7:15 p.m. Three Toronto hospitals declare outbreaks

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

10:20 a.m. Door-to-door Halloween trick-or-treating is not recommended in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa because of high transmission of COVID-19, says Ontario’s chief medical officer. Virtual activities, pumpkin carving, movie nights and decorating lawns are recommended instead.

10:17 a.m. (will be updated) Ontario is reporting 704 cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths. Locally, there are 244 new cases in Toronto, 168 in Peel, 103 in York Region and 51 in Ottawa. Almost 31,900 tests were completed.

10:12 a.m. South Africa’s health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize has announced that he and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19 and warned of a possible resurgence of the disease in the country.

Mkhize and his wife got positive results after they both displayed symptoms, he said in a statement.

“I was feeling abnormally exhausted and as the day progressed, I started losing appetite. My wife had a cough, was dizzy and was extremely exhausted,” he wrote. His wife May, who is also a doctor, has been hospitalized for observation and rehydration, he said.

Mkhize emphasized that South Africans should continue to wear masks and sanitize their hands to avoid more infections.

“As a country, we’ve made significant strides in our fight against this pandemic. Let us not dare regress,” he said. “Whatever we do and wherever we go, we have to keep in mind that there remains a risk of a second wave.”

He said family members and colleagues who were in contact with him have been informed to isolate and test for the disease.

10 a.m. (will be updated) Canada is extending non-essential travel restrictions with the U.S. until Nov. 21, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Monday. The ban has been in place since March.

9:42 a.m. Wales has become the second nation in the United Kingdom to lock down large swaths of its economy to combat rising coronavirus infections, even as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting loud calls to do the same throughout England.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said Monday that his administration was backing a short, sharp “firebreak” to slow the spread of COVID-19. All non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses will close for two weeks beginning at 6 p.m. Friday — a lockdown similar in scope to the U.K.-wide measures imposed in March.

“This is the moment to come together to play our part in a common endeavour to do everything we can together to protect the (National Health Service) and to save lives,” Drakeford said.

Àuthorities across the U.K. are imposing new restrictions on business and social interactions as COVID-19 infections rise throughout all age groups and parts of the country, filling hospital beds and intensive care wards. One of their main goals is to reduce the strain on the NHS ahead of the winter flu season.

Public health experts say a lockdown can help reset the pandemic at a lower level, giving doctors time to treat the ill and providing breathing room for the government to improve its response. Britain has the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with over 43,700 confirmed deaths.

9:32 a.m. Those heading to Donald Trump’s rally at the Des Moines airport on Wednesday were greeted by a billboard: “TRUMP COVID SUPERSPREADER EVENT,” it read, above a giant arrow pointing to the rally.

The ad didn’t deter the Trump faithful. Coronavirus cases are surging across the country, and Iowa has set records for the number of new COVID hospitalizations this month, but people packed like sardines into the airport hangar, very few wearing masks, to see the nation’s highest-profile COVID patient.

It was part of Trump’s comeback tour of rallies last week (in Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa and North Carolina) since declaring himself cured. At the crowded events, he badmouthed mask usage (suggesting falsely that masks may be a source of spread rather than protection), attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci (who warned the rallies were “asking for trouble”) and said to those suffering: “I feel your pain because I felt your pain.” Then he said he “felt like Superman” and that the U.S. was “rounding the corner” on the virus.

Read the analysis from the Star’s Edward Keenan

8:42 a.m. The novel coronavirus has been around for less than a year and already the science is changing.

An early study in June found few or no antibodies in asymptomatic carriers only weeks after infection, suggesting a lack of immunity, but more recent studies have shown that people who have no or little symptoms can launch a robust T-cell immune defence.

And a recent study in Australia showed that in a darkened lab, the virus can live on surfaces such as cellphone screens for up to 28 days, weeks longer than earlier studies, albeit under different conditions.

As we move inside for a period that is once again new in our COVID-19 world — winter — we ask experts to update some of the emerging science that will undoubtedly have to be updated yet again in the coming months, and ask for some advice on how to stay safe indoors.

Read the full story from the Star’s Patty Winsa

8:10 p.m. Bars and restaurants across Belgium shut down for a month and a night-time curfew took effect Monday as health authorities warned of a possible “tsunami” of new virus cases in the hard-hit nation that host the European Union’s headquarters.

The new measures aim to limit social interactions to slow down the exponential growth of the pandemic in the nation of 11.5 million people. The new surge of coronavirus cases has already prompted several hospitals to delay nonessential operations to focus on treating COVID-19 cases.

“We are really very close to a tsunami,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told broadcaster RTL.

According to AP figures based on data collected by Johns Hopkins University, Belgium recorded an average of 73.95 daily cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, the second-worst record in the EU behind the Czech Republic.

Yves Van Laethem, the COVID-19 crisis centre spokesman, said Monday that 7,876 daily new cases were diagnosed on average over the past seven days, up 79 per cent compared with the previous week. Van Laethem said the epidemiological situation could be even worse, given delays in the publication of test results.

7:32 p.m. Mayor John Tory thinks dance studios in Toronto should not be forced to close along with gyms in parts of Ontario with the most COVID-19 infections.

Asked Monday morning on CP24 about complaints from dance studio owners, Tory said: “I don’t think they should be either, by the way … People enrol in specific classes, (operators) are better able to keep a handle on social distancing and so on. I think we should find a way to let those kind of activities proceed subject to safety rules. We’ll see how (public health officials) sort that out.”

Tory’s comments came after Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, said she is working with officials to find a way to let dance studios reopen in so-called “hot zones” moved back to a modified Stage 2 reopening.

MacLeod tweeted that she has heard from dance studio instructors “loud and clear” and is working toward “options to ensure a safe resumption.”

Tory also told CP24 he expects provincial public health officials to very soon reveal advice for Ontario parents and kids on how to safely celebrate Halloween.

The mayor hinted that Toronto’s input included strong concern about kids knocking on doors and having close contact with residents.

Tory said he’s heard many concerns that “if you’ve taken all the measures you’ve taken with respect to trying to protect kids, and keep schools open and protect people from the virus, that you’re obviously going to be adopting a very cautious approach with respect to Halloween … The concern has been expressed — that people, by going up and knocking on doors, are having a closer kind of contact than we were even advising to do on Thanksgiving … Let’s wait and see what the provincial medical officer of health has to say, and then the governments have to decide what to do with that advice.”

7:21 a.m. Iran recorded its worst day of new deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 337 confirmed dead on Monday.

The grim milestone represents a significant spike from the previous single-day death toll record of 279. The Health Ministry also announced 4,251 new infections, pushing the total count to 534,630.

Fatalities have soared in recent weeks, as authorities struggle to contain the virus’s spread months into the pandemic. Health officials say the capital, Tehran, has run out of intensive care beds.

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The Islamic Republic has seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East with a death toll that topped 30,000 this week. The government has resisted a total lockdown to salvage its devastated economy, already weakened by unprecedented U.S. sanctions.

As the death toll skyrockets, eclipsing the previous highs recorded in the spring amid the worst of its outbreak, authorities have started to tighten restrictions. The government ordered shut recently reopened schools and universities, as well as museums, libraries and other public places in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.

The timing of the pandemic has proved particularly difficult for Iran’s economy. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after its unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers.

5:46 a.m.: India has reported 579 fatalities from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the lowest increase in three months, driving its death toll to 114,610. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 55,722 more people infected, raising India’s total to more than 7.5 million.

A government-appointed committee of scientists said Sunday the disease was likely to “run its course” by February if people used masks and adhered to distancing measures.

The number of new infections confirmed each day has declined for a month. The committee said even if active cases increased during the upcoming festive season and cold weather, they were unlikely to surpass India’s record daily high of 97,894 cases.

5:46 a.m.: South Korea on Monday began testing tens of thousands of employees of hospitals and nursing homes to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at live-in facilities.

Fifteen of the 76 latest cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency were from the southern port city of Busan, where more than 70 infections have been linked to a hospital for the elderly.

The disease caused by the coronavirus can be more serious in older people and those with existing health conditions like high-blood pressure.

5:45 a.m.: After entire nations were shut down during the first surge of the coronavirus earlier this year, some countries and U.S. states are trying more targeted measures as cases rise again around the world, especially in Europe and the Americas.

New York’s new round of virus shutdowns zeroes in on individual neighbourhoods, closing schools and businesses in hot spots measuring just a couple of square miles.

Spanish officials limited travel to and from some parts of Madrid before restrictions were widened throughout the capital and some suburbs.

Italian authorities have sometimes quarantined spots as small as a single building.

While countries including Israel and the Czech Republic have reinstated nationwide closures, other governments hope smaller-scale shutdowns can work this time, in conjunction with testing, contact tracing and other initiatives they’ve now built up.

The concept of containing hot spots isn’t new, but it’s being tested under new pressures as authorities try to avoid a dreaded resurgence of illness and deaths, this time with economies weakened from earlier lockdowns, populations chafing at the idea of renewed restrictions and some communities complaining of unequal treatment.

5:45 a.m.: The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the planet has passed 40 million.

The milestone was passed early Monday according to Johns Hopkins University, which collates reporting from around the world.

The actual figure is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, and many people have had no symptoms.

5:44 a.m.: Stricter public health measures come into effect in York Region today in a bid to tackle what the Ontario government has called an “alarming” surge in COVID-19 cases.

The region north of Toronto has moved back into a modified Stage 2 of the province’s pandemic plan.

Indoor service in restaurants is prohibited, gyms and movie theatres are closed and public gatherings can be no larger than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors.

The measures will be in effect for 28 days — two incubation cycles for the novel coronavirus.

York Region accounted for 94 of the province’s 658 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 93 of Saturday’s 805 cases.

Sunday 7:15 p.m. St. Joseph’s hospital reported COVID-19 outbreaks in four units at its site Friday. As of Sunday morning, seven patients and 13 staff members had been infected.

The hospital is expected to implement a widespread testing of staff and patients in the coming days.

“We want to assure our community that St. Joseph’s is a safe place to receive care and emergency services,” said Unity Health spokesperson Robyn Cox.

An outbreak was also declared Thursday in two units at Toronto Western hospital, with six staff members and three patients affected as of Sunday.

A third outbreak was confirmed at CAMH’s Queen Street West site, where two patients were confirmed positive.

The discretion used to indicate an outbreak is when at least two staff or patients have test results that are positive for COVID-19.

According to a news release updated Sunday, the hospital will be closing the COVID-19 impacted unit to admissions and transfers.

“We continue to remain vigilant about policies and procedures to keep staff and patients safe and we are working with our partners at Toronto Public Health on reporting, surveillance and infection control,” the news release said.

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A closer look at Canada's homegrown COVID-19 vaccine candidates – CBC.ca

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More than 100 groups around the world are racing to produce a vaccine against COVID-19, with most of the attention focused on front-runners currently in Phase 3 clinical trials in the U.S. and overseas.

But Canada has also invested in some COVID-19 vaccines in development here, and there are more than half a dozen Canadian vaccine candidates registered with the World Health Organization, at least one of which is already being tested on humans.  They represent a wide range of technologies, from more traditional protein subunit vaccines to newer technologies such as replicating viral vector and DNA vaccines. The options, if approved, would include both needles and a nasal spray.

Dr. Volker Gerdts, director and CEO of  the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, argues that “it’s very important … to be self-sufficient and have access to vaccines that are being produced here in Canada for Canadians.”

He and other advocates say that will give Canadians more control over when and how vaccines become available here.

The federal government recently invested $1 billion dollars in preorders for six foreign vaccine candidates, even though there’s no guarantee that any of them will ever make it through clinical trials to market.

But some Canadian vaccine developers have reported facing big hurdles in development, including not enough government support. Gerdts said lack of manufacturing capacity in Canada slowed efforts earlier this summer. 

Michael Houghton, who is leading a vaccine development team at the University of Alberta, said lack of funding to manufacture vaccines for a clinical trial has set his team back. Providence Therapeutics, a Toronto-based company whose mRNA vaccine is not listed with the WHO, has complained about a lack of government support for clinical trials. However, some teams, such as Halifax-based IMV and Edmonton-based Entos, have announced getting federal government funding to proceed with trials.

Stephen Barr, who is leading a vaccine development team at Western University, says it’s important to support the development of multiple vaccine candidates, as some may be better for certain populations than others.

“The best candidate may not be best for everybody,” he said. Some may have other advantages, such as being cheaper to produce or logistically easier to store or ship, he added.

Despite the challenges, many Canadian researchers are plugging away at a variety of technologies and strategies. Here’s a closer look at the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Canadian teams listed by the World Health Organization.

WATCH | How wealthy countries buying up vaccine supplies could hinder pandemic fight:

Vaccine nationalism, when rich countries buy up vaccines making them unavailable for other countries, could hinder the global fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic and a program to have vaccines available everywhere is still not fully funded. 4:12

Entos Pharmaceuticals

Location: Edmonton

Vaccine type: DNA

Stage of development: Preclinical

Entos Pharmaceuticals is a University of Alberta spinoff focused on genetic therapies.

It’s working on a DNA-based vaccine against COVID-19 that will work by delivering genes from SARS-CoV-2 into the body. The body’s cells then use those instructions to make coronavirus proteins, exposing the immune system to them so it can learn to recognize and fight off SARS-CoV-2.

It’s similar to gene-based RNA vaccines like the ones being made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, with some tradeoffs. DNA is more stable than RNA, which means it can be stored and shipped more easily, and it stays active in the body for longer. But DNA needs to get into the nucleus of the cells in the body, and it’s more complicated to deliver effectively.

Entos’s key technology is a way of delivering the DNA. DNA and RNA are typically packed into tiny spheres called lipid nanoparticles for delivery into the body. Normally, those are engulfed by cells whole, which means that once inside the cell, the DNA or RNA still has to escape its container, said John Lewis, CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals and an associate professor at the University of Alberta.

Entos’s Fusogenix technology, on the other hand, is a “fusion protein” on the outside of the nanoparticle that fuses the nanoparticles with human cell membranes, freeing the DNA from the nanoparticle as it enters the cell.

The DNA in Entos’s vaccine contains genes for both the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and the n-protein, a protein that is similar among different coronaviruses.

That means it could potentially provide protection against other coronaviruses, Lewis said.

The DNA also contains two “genetic adjuvants,” special codes designed to enhance the immune response to the vaccine.

Once the DNA has entered the nucleus of human cells, the instructions are used to make the coronavirus proteins, which are displayed on the cell surface and released into the bloodstream to generate an immune response.

Lewis said animal tests so far suggest a single dose will be enough to generate good immunity, making it logistically easier to deliver than a vaccine requiring two doses.

As of early October, Entos was aiming to start Phase 1 clinical trials at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax in November. Lewis said the company had also received funding to proceed to the end of Phase 2 trials. 

WATCH | How COVID-19 vaccines are being created in months, rather than years:

Some potential COVID-19 vaccines are already in the third stage of clinical trials. It’s taken a lot of effort and money to squeeze a process that can normally take five years into about 10 months and still be done safely. 2:17

IMV

Location: Halifax

Vaccine type: Protein subunit

Stage of development: Preclinical

IMV’s vaccine is a protein-based vaccine, a relatively traditional and widely used vaccine type, where pieces of viral protein are injected to teach the immune system to recognize them. Like many teams around the world (including Novavax, which is in Phase 3 clinical trials), IMV is focused on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. 

“But instead of giving the immune system the entire spike protein, we’ve selected very small regions that have been described to be important for its function,” said Marianne Stanford, the company’s vice-president of research and development.

In IMV’s case, the pieces are so small that they’re pieces of protein called peptides, which don’t need to be manufactured by living organisms — simple chemistry is all you need. 

“Many manufacturers all over the world can make peptides in pretty significant quantities,” Stanford said. “And the fact that our our whole vaccine is synthetic is an advantage because we can scale it up reasonably simply.”

The vaccine consists of four peptides from the spike protein. Instead of putting them in a water-based solution like many other vaccines, IMV uses an oil “which holds it at the site of injection,” Stanford said. The idea is that concentrates it at the site of injection instead of dispersing it through the body, which allows the immune system to interact with it over a longer period of time and generate a stronger response from a small dose.

The vaccine has been tested on mice and ferrets. On Oct. 8, the company said it had received additional funding and support from the federal government, including $5.4 million for clinical trials. IMV says it plans to start a combined Phase 1/2 clinical trial with the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax after more preclinical safety studies, but did not say when. It also said it was collaborating with a “global manufacturing partner” with facilities in India and Europe to scale up production of the vaccine to several hundred million doses if it’s approved.

WATCH | Canada’s chief public health officer discusses Health Canada’s vaccine approval process:

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, sidestepped a question about a new Russian coronavirus vaccine, saying Canada uses ‘solid’ processes to ensure the quality and safety of its vaccines. 1:29

Medicago

Location: Quebec City

Vaccine type: VLP (virus-like particle)

Stage of development: Phase 1 clinical trials

Medicago is a Canadian subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp. 

Its COVID-19 vaccine candidate became the first in Canada to start human trials in July.

The main component of the vaccine is the spike-protein from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but multiple spike proteins are assembled into a virus-like particle, or VLP.

“The virus-like particle has the advantage of looking like a virus to the immune system without being infective,” said Nathalie Landry, the company’s executive vice-president of scientific and medical affairs. That generates a good immune response, she said.

Quebec City-based Medicago uses plants to mass-produce vaccines. Using a plant-based protein makes it easier to scale up than vaccines that use animal cells, which some other teams around the world are using. (Submitted by Medicago)

The particles are made by inserting the spike protein gene into plants — tobacco relatives called Nicotiana. The plant produces the protein for about a week, automatically assembling the proteins into microscopic spheres that consist of membranes studded with spike protein.

The leaves are then crushed and the VLPs are purified, Landry said.

The protein is easier to scale up and purify when grown in plants than in animal cells, as some other teams around the world are doing. The vaccine can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator. Landry said there are also some indications it may be stable at room temperature, making it easier to store and distribute than other vaccines that require extremely cold temperatures, such as -20 C or -80 C for RNA vaccines. 

Tests on mice showed a positive immune response 10 days after a single dose, the company said in a news release. The results have not be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but Medicago says it plans to announce Phase 1 human trial results in October and publish its results from both mouse and monkey trials after that. 

During human tests, the company is combining the VLPs with proprietary adjuvants from Dynavax and GSK in an effort to enhance the immune response to the vaccine and decrease the amount of vaccine needed per dose.

The company has been working for 20 years on the vaccine technology, which was originally developed by Agri-Food Canada and Laval University. It’s previously been used to create a seasonal flu vaccine that is being reviewed by Health Canada, and, if approved, would be the first plant-based vaccine in the world, the company says.

For the COVID-19 vaccine, the company has received federal funding for both animal and human testing, as well as for expansion of its manufacturing capacity. The Quebec government also gave Medicago $7 million.

Landry said the company expects to be able to produce 20 million doses a year at its plant in Quebec, and another 100 million doses a year at its plant in Raleigh, N.C. However, CEO Bruce Clark has previously suggested the U.S. location of that plant means there’s no guarantee of a Canadian supply of the vaccine if it’s successful.

WATCH | Quebec company begins human trials for potential COVID-19 vaccine:

Medicago says it administered the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine candidate to volunteers this week. The trial is a study of 180 healthy men and women between 18 and 55 years old. 7:49

Mediphage Bioceuticals/University of Waterloo

Location: Toronto/Waterloo, Ont.

Vaccine type: DNA

Stage of development: Preclinical

If you don’t like needles, you may be interested in the COVID-19 vaccine being developed at the University of Waterloo. It’s being designed for administration as a nasal spray.

Roderick Slavcev, chief scientific officer at Mediphage Bioceuticals Inc. and an associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Waterloo whose specialities include vaccine design, said the goal is to mimic the route of infection that SARS-CoV-2 normally takes, including targeting the right cells in the lungs and lower respiratory tract.

“There’s good data that suggests that by doing so, you generate the most pertinent type of [immune] response,” he said. 

The downside is that it doesn’t work if your nose is congested. 

The vaccine itself is a DNA vaccine. Instead of containing a virus or viral protein, it contains only the genetic instructions for making one or more proteins. Once it gets inside the body, human cells will make viral proteins based on the instructions.

One of the challenges with DNA vaccines is how to get the DNA into cells. The Waterloo team is using to possible strategies:

  • Putting the DNA into a liposomal nanoparticle, similar the ones used in similar RNA vaccines such as Moderna.

  • Packaging the DNA into a bacteriophage, a virus that only infects bacteria, using technology from Toronto-based University of Waterloo spinoff Mediphage Bioceuticals.

Using bacteriophages means the team can infect bacterial cells in the lab to produce “massive amounts” of the bacteriophage and the DNA, making it easy to scale up production. While phages can’t infect human cells, the ones in the vaccine have been fused to peptides — protein subunits — that bind to the ACE-2 receptor in human cells. That’s the same receptor that binds to the coronavirus spike protein and lets it enter cells. 

Once that happens, Slavcev says, the phage enters the cell, gets broken down, and releases its DNA.

The DNA contains not just instructions for the spike protein in this case, but also the protein that forms the outer membrane or “envelope” of the coronavirus. The system is designed to generate not just spike proteins, but an entire “virus-like particles,” or VLPs.

“You’re forming something that looks almost entirely like the virus, but has no genetic material,” Slavcev said. Each cell can generate large quantities of VLPs for up to two weeks (a far longer effect than for an RNA vaccine) that can leave the cell and trigger a broader immune response than viral proteins alone. The phage itself also generates an immune response, acting as an adjuvant. 

Slavcev said on Oct. 9 that the team expected to start preclinical (animal) trials later in the month.

University of Alberta

Location: Edmonton

Vaccine type: Protein subunit

Stage of development: Preclinical

The University of Alberta’s vaccine development team is led by Prof. Michael Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute and recent co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

It’s a protein subunit vaccine, which Houghton describes as “very well tried and very well tested” technology compared to mRNA, DNA and viral vector vaccines.

In this case, a SARS-CoV-2 gene is inserted into mammal cells to produce large quantities of a viral protein that’s subsequently injected in the body as a vaccine. Like IMV, the University of Alberta isn’t targeting the entire SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, just a small piece of it — the receptor binding domain (RBD), the part that binds to human cells in order to enter them.

Houghton said that region activates the production of at least three kinds of neutralizing antibodies that can stop an infection. And it can be produced much more efficiently than the entire spike protein.

He said that it can likely be purified more easily than an entire protein and reduces the risk of antibody-dependent enhancement, a potential problem where “non-neutralizing”antibodies are produced and end up enhancing infection instead of neutralizing it.

The vaccine would ultimately contain both the RBD protein and a commercial adjuvant, as is typical for protein-based vaccines.

WATCH | Will life return to normal once a COVID-19 vaccine is available?

An epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist answer questions about a COVID-19 vaccine, including what happens after a vaccine is approved and available in Canada. 4:54

As of early October, Houghton said the team had done successful preclinical tests and was trying to get funding for manufacturing and clinical testing, but didn’t have it yet, after failing to obtain a federal grant. The team is currently preparing a “clinical-grade” cell line and has partnered with an adjuvant maker to be prepared for clinical testing anyway.

Houghton noted that the international vaccine frontrunners are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials, but mostly represent newer technologies.

“We will be ready with our tried and tested adjuvanted protein platform just in case the Phase 3 trials disappoint (which will be very alarming),” he wrote in an email.

However, even if those trials succeed, he said a protein subunit vaccine may be used as a booster to promote long-term immunity, as the newer vaccine types will likely be more expensive and have only been tested with two shots.

“We do not know if they will be well-tolerated after three shots,” he said.

WATCH |  Who will be on the priority list in Canada to receive a vaccine first?

When the first COVID-19 vaccines become available, there won’t be enough for everyone who wants it. So, which Canadians should get it first and how will that be decided? Dr. Peter Lin answers that and other questions from viewers. 7:22

University of Manitoba

Location: Winnipeg

Vaccine types: VLP, replicating viral vector

Stage of development: Preclinical

Dr. Xiao-Jian Yao, a professor of medical biology at the University of Manitoba, is leading the development of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

VLP vaccine

Like Medicago, Yao and his team put coronavirus genes into other cells to produce coronavirus proteins in the form of virus-like particles.

In this case, the spherical particles are grown in mammalian cells and studded with two proteins:

  • The receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein — the subunit of the spike protein that actually attaches to human cells, allowing the virus to enter.

  • An Ebola virus protein that targets special immune cells called dendritic cells to generate a stronger immune response.

Yao and his team are currently testing this vaccine in mice and trying to produce it more efficiently.

Xiao-Jian Yao, centre, and his research team at the University of Manitoba are working on two COVID-19 vaccine candidates using two distinct approaches. (Submitted by Research Manitoba)

Replicating viral vector vaccine

Viral vector vaccines against COVID-19 use a “carrier” virus to bring coronavirus genes — and therefore a coronavirus protein itself — into the human body.

Using viral vectors is a strategy used by many teams developing a COVID-19 vaccine around the world, including three in Phase 3 clinical trials: University of Oxford/AstraZeneca; Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson; and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.

The University of Manitoba team is using a viral vector called the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which mainly infects livestock such as horses and pigs. Humans aren’t typically exposed to it unless they work with animals, generally don’t show symptoms if infected, and can’t transmit it to other humans.

It’s similar to the system (also based on VSV) used to make the Canadian-developed Ervebo Ebola vaccine, which has been approved by U.S. and European regulators. That vaccine has been used to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people in Congo.

Unlike the adenoviruses used in the vaccines currently in Phase 3 trials, the VSV vector can replicate in the body and only a small amount is needed for each dose.

Yao’s team is putting into the VSV vector the same two proteins that they’re targeting in the VLP vaccine.

At the moment, they’re still working on the last steps of the method for producing the vaccine.

VIDO-Intervac

Location: Saskatoon, Sask.

Vaccine type: Protein subunit

Stage of development: Preclinical

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-Intervac) has previously produced two coronavirus vaccines — one for cattle and one for pigs.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was working on a vaccine against the MERS coronavirus.

“In essence, it’s almost identical to the approach we’re using right now,” said Dr. Volker Gerdts, director and CEO of VIDO-Intervac.

The vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine made up of molecules of the virus’s spike protein. It’s made by putting the gene for the protein into a culture of mammalian cells, which instructs them on how to make the protein. It’s a vaccine approach that many groups around the world are taking. 

“But what is unique about our vaccine is we’re mixing this protein with an adjuvant…that really now drives the immune response toward a certain direction,” Gerdts said.

WATCH | Canada’s role in the global race to find a COVID-19 vaccine:

Canada’s leading vaccine researcher and a team at the University of Saskatchewan are working around the clock to find a COVID-19 vaccine to save lives. 3:04

Vaccines made from proteins instead of entire viruses is generally don’t activate all arms of the immune system. Adjuvants are extra compounds intended to compensate for that.

“So they mimic, essentially, a full-blown infection and provide what we call the ‘danger signal’ to the immune system,” Gerdts said. “I would argue the adjuvant in the vaccine is almost as important as the actual protein.”

The adjuvant VIDO-Intervac is testing uses three different chemical compounds to convey different kinds of “danger signals.” In doing so, it activates immune cells called T-cells.

“That is something that, in addition to neutralizing antibodies, we seem to need,” Gerdts said.

In May, the researchers announced their vaccine was “highly effective” in preclinical trials in ferrets, generating antibodies and decreasing viral infection. However, before moving to human trials, the researchers need to complete studies using higher-grade materials, and production was delayed by busy manufacturers, they reported in August. However, as of early October, the Gerdts said the materials had been manufactured, the toxicology studies were nearly complete and his team hoped to start clinical trials at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax in December.

Volker Gerdts, director and CEO of VIDO-Intervac, said his team expects to start clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate in December. (Submitted by VIDO-InterVac/University of Saskatchewan)

Western University

Location: London, Ont.

Vaccine type: Replicating viral vector

Stage of development: Preclinical

In March, vaccine researchers at Western University in London, Ont., were just starting Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for a vaccine against the MERS coronavirus.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada that month, the trials were put on hold. But the researchers didn’t stop working — they just switched to SARS-CoV-2 instead.

The system they had been working on was a replicating viral vector vaccine, using the same viral vector as the University of Manitoba, the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). 

Stephen Barr, an associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and co-leader of the vaccine team, said when the coronavirus spike protein gene is inserted into VSV, the virus develops a coat around it that looks like SARS-CoV-2, which teaches the immune system to recognize it.

“You don’t need to inject a lot of the virus into the body because it can make copies of itself,” Barr said. That could make it quicker and cheaper to produce than vaccines based on non-replicating viruses. “And also because it can make copies of itself, it mimics more what a natural virus would do. It would go through that whole process of finding a cell, getting into a cell, making proteins.”

The technology, unlike some others, has already been commercialized and shown to work for the Ebola vaccine — “which is why we think it will have a good chance of success,” Barr said.

As of early October, Barr said two versions of the COVID-19 vaccine had generated good antibody responses in animal tests. The team is trying to get funding to proceed to combined Phase 1/2 clinical trials.


 

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Canada inches toward 200000 COVID-19 case mark – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Canada’s COVID-19 caseload edged closer to the 200,000 mark on Sunday after a weekend in which Quebec had the majority of new infections and public health officials urged Canadians to remain united in their efforts to combat the pandemic.

The country reported 1,827 new cases Sunday, for a total of 198,151 infections.

Quebec accounted for 1,094 of those new cases, marking the third day in a row the province has had more than 1,000 infections.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube tweeted that the number of hospitalizations in the province continues to rise and urged residents to “break the wave to slow this down” and “protect the most vulnerable.”

Ontario reported the second-highest number of new cases Sunday at 658, while Manitoba had 44, Saskatchewan logged 24, New Brunswick posted five and Nova Scotia had two. Health authorities said the new cases in the Atlantic provinces were related to travel outside the region

Ontario has taken steps to curb the spike in cases in four hot spots by reverting them to a modified Stage 2 of pandemic recovery, which includes the closure of gyms and movie theatres, and a ban on indoor dining in restaurants or bars.

Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa moved to the modified Stage 2 on Oct. 10 and York Region will join them on Monday.

“Our challenge now and going forward is to remain united in our efforts to get all of Canada back on a ‘slow burn,”‘ Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Sunday in a statement.

“Our goal is to reduce cases of COVID-19 infection to manageable levels. But public health cannot do this alone. Everyone is needed on the frontlines, from essential workers to volunteers to businesses, workplaces, and everyday citizens across Canada.”

Tam added individuals “can go the extra mile” by downloading the COVID Alert contact tracing app or “sharing credible information” on COVID-19 risks and prevention measures via social media.

Her sentiments echoed those in a statement on Saturday, when she stressed the importance of a “collective effort,” even though the pandemic is affecting each part of the country differently.

As of Sunday, there have been 9,760 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada.

The federal Conservatives on Sunday called for the House of Commons’ health committee to investigate Ottawa’s preparations for a second wave of COVID-19, with Tory health critic Michelle Rempel Garner accusing the Liberal government of being caught flatfooted despite expectations that there would be a resurgence in the number of cases in the fall and winter.

“As businesses are closed in another series of COVID related economic shutdowns, we are looking for answers as to why the federal government left Canadians unprepared to deal with this second wave,” Rempel Garner said during a news conference as MPs prepared for the resumption of Parliament on Monday.

“We need these answers so that we can move forward and keep Canadians safe while also keeping things open.”

With files from Lee Berthiaume

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020.

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