CBR scientists receive federal support to advance mRNA vaccine technologies


Dr. Leonard Foster shows federal Minister Harjit Sajjan how his lab is working to improve the delivery technology behind mRNA vaccines.

UBC faculty of medicine and Centre for Blood Research scientists received $11.1 million for two new projects to advance mRNA vaccine technologies and boost the impact of B.C. biotechnology on the global stage.

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister for International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada (PacifiCan), announced the funding through PacifiCan for the projects to enhance the delivery and efficacy of mRNA vaccines.

“PacifiCan is committed to supporting British Columbia’s life sciences sector and these projects at the University of British Columbia reflect that commitment. Establishing a home-grown pipeline for mRNA vaccine research will not only save lives, but create jobs for British Columbians and position Canada as a global leader in biotechnology innovation,” said Minister Sajjan.

The two project teams will work in tandem, meeting regularly and coordinating research to maximize the value and effectiveness of both projects.

“UBC has long been a major driver of the B.C. biotech sector, but those connections and their outputs really gained international attention during the pandemic. AbCellera, Acuitas, and Precision Nanosystems, among many others, are now major players in the treatment and prevention of diseases,” said Dr. Leonard Foster, one of the project principal investigators and a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. “This funding builds off many years of collaboration between UBC and local biotech companies and will enable us to continue developing and refining vaccines, drugs, and biologics.”


Project Details

Dr. Leonard Foster. UBC faculty of medicine researchers receive federal support to advance mRNA vaccine technologies.

Dr. Leonard Foster

Title: Improve the delivery technology behind mRNA vaccines and other nanomedicines
Funding: $3,500,000
Principal Investigator: Dr. Leonard Foster

Through analyzing how mRNA vaccines interact with cells and create defenses against pathogens, researchers will work to optimize the administration of those vaccines. Key objectives in this research project include minimizing any potential side effects, reducing the necessary vaccine dosage, and optimizing the potency of mRNA vaccines, among others.

This work will advance the development of future mRNA vaccines and other medicines. Expected economic benefits of this project include the creation of 70 new jobs, the training of 80 new highly qualified biotechnology professionals, and revenue growth of at least $90 million for the B.C. biotechnology sector.


Dr. Natalie Strynadka. UBC faculty of medicine researchers receive federal support to advance mRNA vaccine technologies.

Dr. Natalie Strynadka

Title: Grow B.C. biotech by advancing in-vitro and in-situ antiviral therapy for SARS-CoV2 variants
Funding: $7,680,000
Principal Investigator: Dr. Natalie Strynadka

This project will see UBC acquire key equipment and enhance lab operations to advance antiviral therapy for COVID-19 variants. This will involve identifying, testing and developing responses to existing COVID-19 variants and establishing a vaccine development framework in B.C.

Working closely with B.C. biotechnology companies, UBC will study the COVID-19 Delta variant at a molecular level and use AI predictive models to create mRNA vaccine treatments for potential future variants. Through this process, UBC and its partners will develop a pipeline for rapid anti-viral drug development, enabling a local response to new and emerging COVID-19 variants for worldwide commercial application.

Overall, this will allow B.C. to provide international leadership in vaccine research and raise the visibility of B.C. biotech within the global community. Expected economic benefits of this project include creating at least 170 jobs at UBC and industry partners, training 75 highly qualified personnel and growing revenue by at least $70 million for the B.C. biotechnology sector.


A version of this story was originally posted on the UBC Faculty of Medicine website.