Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Explanation needed

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SINCE word began leaking out that Ottawa had killed the bid to build an HIV vaccine plant in Canada, the four contenders have waited for some good explanation as to what quashed the project. Recent information posted on a government website has not clarified the point. It is time the Harper government and the Gates Foundation -- partners in the initiative -- give full, honest accounting for the decision.

Winnipeg's International Centre for Infectious Diseases led the bid to locate the plant in this city. ICID's partnership with Canada's largest biotech company, Cangene, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York City and universities was said to have been superior. The submission was a massive undertaking - more than a year of hard, expensive work, pulling together the elements of a complicated set of criteria. Four centres were in the competition launched by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in early 2008, following his announcement with billionaire Bill Gates that an $88-million plant would be the key piece to this country's $139-million initiative to find a safe, affordable vaccine for the AIDS virus.

The Harper government has not said how the proposals came up short. Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada's website noted that the Gates Foundation believes a pilot vaccine plant is no longer needed, as there is capacity within the private pharmaceutical industry. That summary dismissal of the efforts of the four centres is insulting. What has changed so dramatically so quickly in the private drug-production market? Further, the decision wipes out the concept of a public, not-for-profit plant that was to produce vaccine doses in sufficient volume to give promising research a good test, arguably taking greater risk than private business will accept.

The four universities and their partners deserve at least a full explanation from the federal government, and so do all Canadians.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2010 A10

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