CALGARY -- A Calgary company may offer some hope to Canada’s vaccine shortage.

The company, Northern RNA, is helping make a vaccine that is now being tested in humans. 

Human clinical trials have begun in Toronto for a proposed COVID-19 vaccine partly developed in Alberta. Providence Therapeutics, the Ontario-based company leading the vaccine development, says 60 subjects will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected next month.

A group of healthy volunteers aged 18 to 65 have been divided into four groups of 15. Each of the three groups is receiving three different dose levels, while a fourth group gets a placebo.

It's a promising start,  but the people behind the project worry that the federal government isn't doing enough to help with this potential home-grown solution.

"We are continuing to move forward we're continuing to build our own capacity but if engaging with the federal government is (supposed to be) part of that solution, it's not working," said Providence Therapeutics CEO Brad Sorenson.

Part of the vaccine will be made in Calgary by Northern RNA.

“We’re actually building some of the important building blocks for the messenger RNA," said Northern RNA CEO Brad Stevens, explaining that "mRNA" provides instructions to cells -- "to build proteins that may treat or prevent disease."

Northern RNA’s Calgary lab is set to start making part of that mRNA for the Canadian vaccine -- now in the human-testing phase.

Participants first had bloodwork to ensure they don’t already have COVID-19 antibodies.

“It’s exciting.  Definitely makes the whole experience of COVID a little different," said Luke Bradley, who's participating in the trial.

“I won’t know I guess until the end of this trial, looks like it will be in 12 months whether I got the placebo or the vaccine, but I’ve got a three in four chance, I like my odds,” Bradley said.

Taking part means he won’t get one of the vaccines already approved in Canada – but Bradley says it’s worth the end goal.

“Help us develop a Canadian vaccine. That’s going to be pretty vital I think in the long term.”

Providence Therapeutics says a larger human trial may follow in the spring -- and if successful, the vaccine could be released by the end of this year – with production ramping up in Calgary.

“If everything goes well with their plans we’ll be able to roll out hundreds of millions of doses in 2022," Sorenson said.

Emerging industry

It's a promising prospects for an emerging industry in Alberta.

“There’s going to be many applications. Messenger RNA has proved itself to be effective. I think, wouldn’t it be cool for Calgary to be the messenger RNA capital of Canada," said Stevens.

What's challenging is the timing. It appears the vaccine won't be ready until Canada's vaccination schedule is over - but for Sorenson, that simply means the company will be able to look to distribute globally.

"Even if they vaccinated everybody in Canada, if there's still a problem in the world, that's going to affect Canada," Sorenson said.  "That's going to affect our economy, our ability to travel, people's extended families. We need to find a solution that not only helps out Canada but helps out globally."

With files  from The Canadian Press