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Dr. Riam Shammaa

Dr. Riam Shammaa

Founder & CEO, IntelliStem

Innovative cell therapy research in Canada could hold the answer for a COVID-19 vaccine.


The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on lives and economies around the planet. While much is not fully known about the virus, all experts agree that a vaccine is the only conclusive way to end the devastating effects of COVID-19. The creation of a vaccine appears to be fraught with uncertainty, as well as development timelines of well over a year. Luckily, however, IntelliStem, a Toronto-based biotechnology company, is offering a brighter hope.

“IntelliStem is a biotechnology company pioneering cellular and peptide therapeutics and vaccines to create the next generation of affordable therapeutics and vaccines,” says Dr. Riam Shammaa, Founder and CEO of IntelliStem. “IntelliStem’s platform is quite unique as it relies on proprietary, genetically-engineered stem cells to create immune cells that mount a stronger response against catastrophic diseases, such as cancer and infections.” 

IntelliStem has two main divisions: one that specializes in developing cellular vaccines against difficult cancers and an infectious diseases division that develops vaccines against pathogens like Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19.

IntelliStem’s platform is quite unique as it relies on proprietary, genetically-engineered stem cells to create immune cells that mount a stronger response against catastrophic diseases, such as cancer and infections.

Dr. Riam Shammaa, Founder and CEO of IntelliStem

Hope for a COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Shammaa says his company’s research can play a key role in making affordable vaccines. “During the last two years, IntelliStem developed IntelliPeptidome™, which is a platform that permits the systematic analysis and identification of peptides selected by our genetically-engineered stem cells, IntelliCells™, for triggering efficient and specific immune responses. This process leads to developing vaccines in a substantially faster way that’s more efficient and less expensive.” 

In fact, the company has already been working on a vaccine for COVID-19. “We have our vaccine candidate ready and we’re having meetings with Health Canada to file for a clinical trial as soon as possible,” says Dr. Shammaa.

IntelliStem chart

Challenges to vaccine development, at home and abroad

Dr. Shammaa notes there are issues impeding the smooth development of a COVID-19 vaccine. “We face many challenges due to the current lockdown in Canada,” he says. “These range from sourcing the proteins of the virus to having them delivered to having the materials to research the virus and develop the vaccine. That’s why we want to develop our platform and make it ready against other pathogens. If we developed this platform eight months ago, we would’ve had the vaccine ready in fewer than five weeks, but because of all the delays we’re facing, things that used to take two days are taking two weeks.”

Despite these difficulties, Dr. Shammaa says more pressing issues still threaten vaccine development. “In spite of all the challenges we had developing the vaccine, our biggest challenge is yet to come,” he notes. “In the last decade, most manufacturing was shipped out of Canada due to globalization. We were told it was cheaper to manufacture abroad. Well, with how expensive this pandemic has proven to be, I strongly challenge that premise. We exported the technology, know-how, and highly-skilled people abroad. Add to that the national protectionism that we’ve seen recently and you have a recipe for disaster. We’ve already seen countries refusing to send supplies to Canada and prioritizing their own interests. Do you think vaccine distribution won’t encounter the same issues?”

Dr. Shammaa encourages Canadians to speak to their elected officials and ask them to bring the people and technology needed to manufacture vaccines back to Canada. “Currently, we’re at the mercy and generosity of other countries to allow technologies to be exported to Canada,” he says. “Even now with our vaccine, we’re looking for manufacturers across the globe to manufacture and export our own vaccine back to us!”  

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