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Canadian government puts AIDS vaccination project on ice

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By Stephanie Dearing     Feb 20, 2010 in Health
With some 33.4 million people in the world afflicted with HIV/AIDS, there has been a quest to find a vaccine to help halt the pandemic. The majority of people living - and dying - with the immune-compromising disease are in Africa.
Ottawa, ON - After partnering with the Bill Gates Foundation, the Government of Canada committed to finance the creation of a small-scale AIDS vaccine facility, to be built in Canada. The Government of Canada announced quietly yesterday it was pulling out of that agreement, because while applicants had submitted proposals for the facility, the Government's vetting committee rejected them, saying they failed to qualify. The government notice said the Gates Foundation had agreed to cancel the vaccine pilot project. Canada said "... As part of the due diligence process, a study commissioned by the Gates Foundation to analyse current vaccine manufacturing capacity concluded that there is currently sufficient vaccine manufacturing capacity in North America and Europe to meet research needs. This is good news for the HIV vaccine field. This report is available upon request to the CHVI Secretariat.
After weighing all of the evidence, the Government of Canada and the Gates Foundation have decided not to proceed with the pilot-scale vaccine manufacturing facility. Other CHVI programs are unaffected by this decision and will continue to move forward."
However, the decision was leaked to the Canadian Press (CP) in late January. CP learned the four short-listed applicants had all been rejected. CP said the Canadian government put up a notice on its website to say the project had been cancelled, but the notice was taken down.
One of the applicants, the International Center for Infectious Diseases (ICID), based in Winnipeg Manitoba was excited about its bid, announcing it had pulled together a consortium of 6 other agencies to work with the ICID on developing an AIDS vaccine. The ICID said that its proposal, if accepted, would create a unique facility. ICID's President and CEO said in a press release from 2009, “We have assembled a consortium with an unparalleled depth of expertise with well deserved international reputations for excellence. When you combine the strength of our consortium with ICIDʼs singular focus on infectious diseases and the fact that Winnipeg has the largest concentration of HIV researchers in Canada, our bid is the logical choice.”
The University of Western Ontario (UWO), situated in London Ontario had also put in a bid. The UWO was confident it would win the bid as one of the University's researchers has been working on developing an HIV/AIDS vaccine. The Vice-President of UWO said in 2008 “... We have our work cut out for us, as I am sure the competition will be tough, but London and Western have a great history of research and manufacturing success. This is exemplified by the leading research of Dr. Chil-Yong Kang in developing an HIV/AIDS vaccine.”
A third competitor in the contest was Laval University's Infectious Disease Research Center, sited in Quebec City, Quebec. The Center has an impressive 250 researchers. The fourth applicant was the Trent, Ontario based International Consortium on Anti-Virals.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Bill Gates in Davos, Switzerland where it is presumed the two agreed to cancel the HIV/AIDS pilot facility.
The 2006 memorandum of understanding between the Canadian government and the Gates Foundation said "... Key aspects of this collaboration include support for production capacity for manufacturing of HIV vaccine pilot lots, clinical trials capacity and discovery research." The Canadian government said it would continue to provide funding in collaboration with the Gates Foundation for HIV/AIDS programs and projects.
At an HIV Vaccine Conference hosted by the United Nations in France last year, UNAIDS' Executive Director, Michel Sidibé said “A ready to use vaccine against HIV could be more than a decade away, but when it does become available, it needs to be financed as a public good that is accessible for all. Meanwhile we have to redouble our combination HIV prevention efforts to stop the continuing tide of new HIV infections.”
A report prepared by UNAIDS for the Conference said HIV vaccine funding had decreased, with $868 million invested in vaccine development worldwide in 2008.
Commercial enterprises are devoting resources towards developing an AIDs vaccine, however investment is low because the vaccine is seens as having poor commercial potential.
Canada released its HIV Vaccine Plan in 2006, stating in that plan "... As citizens of a caring and affluent nation, we have an ethical responsibility to contribute our fair share of skills and resources to domestic and global efforts to develop and distribute HIV vaccines. We also have a legal obligation under human rights law and treaties to cooperate with other countries to protect health. We will use our strengths to contribute to international as well as domestic HIV vaccine initiatives.
... Because developing HIV vaccines is a global effort, Canada must be involved. We can make a difference. Canada should pursue the continuum of activities involved in the development of HIV vaccines as a coordinated effort, partnering with other countries, integrating lessons learned globally into the Canadian experience and ensuring that expertise developed in other countries is applied in Canada."
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