Funding renewed for Alta. research centre working on hepatitis C vaccine

The Alberta government is highlighting its Budget 2021 commitment of $20 million to the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute as "more important than ever in the COVID pandemic context."

The four-year funding renewal to the University of Alberta research centre, whose director was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, represents an opportunity for Alberta to be better prepared for future health emergencies, Premier Jason Kenney said.

"Canada realizes that we can never again be at the whim of other countries and the politics of different nations when it comes to vaccine security," he commented at a Thursday news conference.

"It can also be a key part of the growing bio science industry in Alberta. This is a global industry worth well over a trillion dollars in the global economy, we need to play a larger role in that."

The institute specializes in virus and pathogen research, and is specifically working to develop a cure for hepatitis C and the bacteria commonly known as Group A strep, a novel antiviral fighter virus for cytomegalovirus (CMV), and treatments for Alzheimer's, cancer and serious liver disease.

The institute's director, Michael Houghton, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2020 for his work – alongside Harvey Alter and Charles Rice – for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus in 1989, which helped improve tests so that the virus could be eliminated from the blood donation system and improve treatment.

"They are all very challenging goals, and they take a lot of time and a lot of funding," Houghton noted Thursday.

"But over the next few years, thanks to the continued support of the Alberta government, we are aiming to succeed in at least one of these major areas of medicine."

Speaking about efforts to grow Alberta's biotechnology industry and COVID-19 response, government officials also said they have received 17 proposals from domestic and international companies to produce coronavirus vaccines in the provinces.