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Other firms capable of making vaccines killed plant: agency

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OTTAWA -- The Public Health Agency of Canada officially acknowledged Friday the Canadian HIV vaccine pilot manufacturing facility is dead.

The $88-million facility was to have been the signature component of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, but in a statement posted on its website Friday, PHAC said a new analysis shows there are already enough companies in North America and Europe able to make vaccines.

"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," reads the statement.

The Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative is a joint venture of Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the global push to find a safe, affordable, accessible and effective HIV vaccine.

In April 2008, the government put out a call for proposals. Four finalists, including a consortium led by the International Centre for Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg, were selected to submit more substantial bids, with a winner expected to be announced last fall.

But PHAC now says none of the four finalists met the criteria and a Gates Foundation study has at the same time concluded a pilot scale facility is no longer needed because there is already sufficient manufacturing capacity in North America and Europe to meet research needs. News of the facility's demise has been expected since all four of the finalists were told Jan. 29 they hadn't won, but PHAC has been silent about why or what it planned to do until Friday.

Dr. Rainer Engelhardt, assistant deputy minister of infectious diseases and emergency preparedness at the PHAC, said things have changed since the government put out a call for applications for the facility in April 2008.

"It was felt at the time a pilot-scale manufacturing facility was desirable to have," said Engelhardt.

He said the government is still committed to CHVI and is considering all the options about where to spend the money that would have gone to the vaccine production facility.

ICID spent close to $750,000 pulling together a world-class partnership including four Canadian universities, Cangene Corp., Serum Institute and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The facility would have brought as many as 70 high-paying science jobs to Winnipeg, and had a $20-million annual operating budget. Last summer, ICID was told informally by several federal sources it had the best bid.

"We believe we had a winning bid and are still awaiting further clarity as to where our application fell short," ICID chief executive officer Heather Medwick said Friday.

Manitoba MP and NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis spent an hour on the phone with PHAC officials Friday trying to understand what had happened but said she feels PHAC is "covering its tracks."

"I didn't leave that conversation with any confidence this was an up-front kosher process," said Wasylycia-Leis.

Allegations have been raised ICID's bid was frowned upon because its now former CEO, Terry Duguid, is a candidate for the federal Liberal party. Concerns private-sector drug companies didn't want to be left out of the lucrative HIV vaccine market also have been raised as possible issues.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2010 A8

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