As part of Budget 2021, the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute (AVI) at the University of Alberta will receive $20 million in funding over four years. The funding will accelerate research and development of pharmaceutical and vaccine treatments and build on Alberta’s successes, such as the recent announcement of a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for Dr. Michael Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. 

Vaccine nationalism has shown the need to invest in health security for Albertans. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the need for health research and domestic development of treatments for illnesses. Supporting a strong pharmaceutical and life sciences industry will attract investment, encourage the growth of spinoff industries and create jobs in Alberta.

“Alberta has always led the way on innovation and new ideas. The pandemic has shown us that we need to build on our homegrown strengths. The work of world-class researchers like Michael Houghton at our state-of-the-art universities means we have an incredible advantage. This investment shows that Alberta is making a real contribution to the global fight against COVID-19 and other viral diseases.”

Jason Kenney, Premier

“Vaccine nationalism can never be allowed to threaten our ability to keep Albertans healthy. This investment in the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute increases our capacity to develop vaccines which is critical to our strategy to build out our pharmaceutical industry in Alberta. It will help keep Albertans healthy and diversify our economy.”

Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation

“Alberta is home to some of the best researchers in the world, working in cutting-edge post-secondary institutions and universities. This funding will ensure that we are protecting the health and safety of Albertans.”

Demetrios Nicolaides, Minister of Advanced Education

“With the support of the Government of Alberta's investment in the U of A's Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, the province of Alberta will play an even larger role in vaccine and therapeutic research, development and production moving forward. Building on the legacy of decades of public and private research support, we can set a bold vision to speed the development of vaccines from discovery to market so urgently needed in Canada today.”

Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor, University of Alberta

“This announcement is so very welcome and important for the work taking place in the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. This is the kind of investment that is needed to enhance the Canadian biotechnology industry. This support from the Alberta government will help protect the health of Canadians, bring benefits to Alberta's economy, and create jobs for graduates from Alberta's universities, colleges and technical schools.”

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, founding director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology and distinguished professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Alberta

“I appreciate the continued support from the Alberta government of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. We can now continue to work with our partners in testing our hepatitis C vaccine in the clinic as well as a Group A streptococcus vaccine and continuing the development of drugs targeting cytomegalovirus and Alzheimer's disease. Clinical success in any one of these or our other medical areas, will enhance both health care and the biotechnology industry within Alberta.”

Dr. Michael Houghton, Nobel laureate, and director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute

The AVI is a commercialization centre within the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta and supports the development of new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. Some therapies currently under development at the institute include a hepatitis C vaccine, human cytomegalovirus antivirals and therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, the AVI secured more than $5.8 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop antiviral drugs, vaccines and diagnostics in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Houghton, director of the AVI, is also the recent joint recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, in recognition of his work discovering the hepatitis C virus and developing key diagnostics for hepatitis C. This is Canada’s second Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. The first prize was awarded in 1923 for the discovery of insulin.

Alberta’s Recovery Plan is a bold, ambitious long-term strategy to build, diversify and create tens of thousands of jobs now. By building schools, roads and other core infrastructure we are benefiting our communities. By diversifying our economy and attracting investment with Canada’s most competitive tax environment, we are putting Alberta on a path for a generation of growth.

Quick facts

  • Alberta’s pharmaceutical and life sciences industry is the fourth largest in Canada, next to Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
  • Alberta has more than 200 life sciences companies – 60 per cent of which are in the medical technology and devices, health biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
  • In 2019 alone, Alberta’s pharmaceutical and life sciences industry attracted $430 million in private capital investment, generated $824 million in revenue and supported more than 15,000 high-paying jobs. 
  • Worldwide revenues for the pharmaceutical and therapeutics sector reached $1.25 trillion in 2019 and are projected to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2023.
  • The Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute was established at the University of Alberta in 2013.
  • The institute is developing antiviral drugs and vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The funding will continue the institute’s mandate of commercializing research in life sciences and biotechnology in fields ranging from synthetic chemistry to virology and immunology.