Since early 2020, more than 350 UBC researchers from across the university have been making significant contributions to the medical, public health, social and economic responses to COVID-19. While much of this activity has developed alongside the evolving pandemic, the first approved vaccines and treatments have deep foundations in UBC research predating the outbreak.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine relies on an innovative delivery system—using lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) to deliver encapsulated mRNA to the interior of target cells—that can be traced back to research pioneered in the lab of Dr. Pieter Cullis in the late 1970s. UBC spin-off company Acuitas Therapeutics is a partner in supporting the development of these LNP formulations, which are an integral part of the vaccine that will be administered to as many as 249,000 Canadians this December, as part of 76 million doses secured by the Government of Canada.
AbCellera is one of Canada’s fastest-growing biotechnology companies, and is a UBC spin-off based on a rapid antibody discovery platform. Carl Hansen, Abcellera CEO, and former UBC physics professor, first developed the platform in the UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories. This technology discovered a target therapeutic antibody for COVID-19 in March that has since been developed through a partnership with Eli Lilly and Company as bamlanivimab, a treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization. In November the treatment received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and interim authorization from Health Canada as a treatment for COVID-19.
“Both the rapid and interdisciplinary response to the pandemic and the foundational role of UBC discoveries and inventions in developing new medical treatments and vaccines point to the importance and impact of university research in addressing complex challenges and issues,” says Gail Murphy, UBC’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “With support from government, and in collaboration with industry and other partners, UBC research, as well as the spin-off companies it has created, is having dramatic impacts in the response to COVID-19