Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tell us why HIV bid was nixed

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After more than two years of hard work

and considerable expense, Winnipeg's

renowned HIV-research community

has been told its bid for the federally funded

vaccine manufacturing lab has been rejected.

It has not yet been told why Ottawa rejected

the city's proposal to host the $88-million

plant that was to draw $22 million from the

Bill and Melinda Gates

Foundation.

More worrisome is

the speculation that

the federal government

may be shelving

its commitment to

build the plant at all.

Four centres submitted

proposals: Winnipeg's

International

Centre on Infectious

Diseases, Laval

University at Quebec,

Trent University's

antiviral initiative and

the University of Western Ontario. Until last

week, the ICID was optimistic -- theirs was

a consortium involving the world's largest

vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute

of India, as well as universities across Canada

and Cangene, Canada's largest biotech

company -- due to Winnipeg's wealth of HIV

researchers, and its relationship to the national

microbiology laboratory on Arlington

Street.

The rejection is a huge blow to the city's

prospects as the plant would have an operating

budget of $20 million and bring some 70

jobs, most in specialized HIV-vaccine production

work.

Ottawa's response has been ambiguous -- a

spokesman said a notice posted on the website

of the Public Health Agency of Canada that

the government was not proceeding with the

plant was an administrative error. Evading

mention of a Canadian plant, the government

said it is continuing to work with the Gates

Foundation on speeding along vaccine production.

A decision to nix a Canadian vaccine facility

would be a blow to the country's work

toward an inoculation against the virus that

causes AIDS, a disease that continues at

epidemic proportions globally, particularly in

poor and developing countries. Rates of infection

are on the rise in some parts of Canada,

including Manitoba.

The public non-profit model for a vaccine

plant was intended to take the discoveries of

international researchers and turn them into

compounds ready for use in trials in human

and animal subjects. Prime Minister Stephen

Harper's announcement in late 2007 on a vaccine

plant was good news for a research community

discouraged that same year when a

Merck clinical trial was halted out of concern

its vaccine prototype had made some subjects

susceptible to HIV.

The federal cabinet, including senior

Manitoba minister Vic Toews, has refused

comment on the Canadian project. Dr. Allan

Ronald, professor emeritus at the University

of Manitoba, who was involved in the

Manitoba bid, says that among the four centres

about $1 million was invested in vying

for the plant. Other officials at ICID say

flat out, that if Winnipeg's bid did not win,

then no one could have won and the federal

government must be axing the program

altogether.

The Harper government owes a lot of

people a much better account of what has

delayed, and perhaps scuttled, a project that

was widely regarded as a vital element to the

global fight against HIV. Manitoba and those

who have worked intimately in the hopes of

launching this facility deserve a good answer

on what went wrong. Mr. Toews should step

forward.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2010 A10

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